Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker (Link to Goodreads)
Released: June 26th, 2012
Pined over for months, finally bought it!

Description from Goodreads:

“It still amazes me how little we really knew. . . . Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”

Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker has created a singular narrator in Julia, a resilient and insightful young girl, and a moving portrait of family life set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.

At the beginning of the summer, I saw a blurb for this book in a magazine. I saved that magazine page in the back of my copy of Pure, and after months of thinking about it and wondering if I should spend the money to buy it, I went for it. I also shocked myself in reading this in 3 sittings over the past 3 days. This book helped me break out of my reading slump and I am forever grateful. Not only because this book helped me get back on the wagon, but because this story was fantastically written. I am heartbroken over this story at the same time as I am afraid.

Onto the review!

This story permeates deep down my fear that humans have becomes too much for earth. End of the world, apocalypse, dooms day, 12/21/12. These are scary rumors and unbelievable realities. This book introduced you to a slow ending, and while some stories should do without slow pacing, this story was perfectly set for its daunting and inevitable ending. No, I am not someone who hoards cans of food and jugs of water in my basement. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't pass boxes of matches and emergency kits and wish I could buy them all. Why should I feel guilty for fearing the end of the world? It's not an irrational fear. It's inevitable. If not only because humans will die no matter what, I think the scariest part of it is that there is always a possibility we might die before we need to. Not to say people die at a specific moment all the same, but environmental issues that can and should be handled can not be how we go out. It's too scary.

That's why this story will probably stay with me my entire life. Walker wrote this story with such an innocent character that the deeper issues at hand seem even more daunting. Julia is an 11 year old girl who is just starting to learn about life and how to make it through, what Walker calls, "the age of miracles" - middle school. What I can agree was the worst time in my life so far, the age when you are forced to choose a side of good girl or bad girl, smart girl or cool girl. Julia doesn't choose for herself, her classmates do it. And she takes it all, understanding that she is only as strong as she has been taught. With a doctor father who works most of the story, to a mother who frets over every little thing, it's no surprise Julia is detached from her classmates and the world around her. She is an observer, not a participant, and you want her to succeed. All the while, it turns out the planet is rotating slower and slower each day that passes, making the days longer by first minutes, then hours.

On the foreground, you have a young girl growing up and going through the motions of finding out who she is, while in the background, the world is ending. As the days grow longer, the people panic. What does it mean to have longer days, longer nights? Crops begin to fail. Managing time begins to fail. The government decides to insist on keeping regular 24 hours. Adapting to this new change is not easy for anyone.

One of the great things about Walkers writing is that she uses enough factual evidence to back up what's happening in the world. Another interesting aspect of the narrative was that Julia was telling it from memory. At the back of my mind, I always knew while reading, that she had survived longer than the duration of the story itself. It made me want to hurry to the end to see how far along she made it and how badly the planet became.

Two things I didn't like about this book, which did not ruin it at all for me. The story is predictable. There were a few things that you don't know until a while later, but we do know the planet is getting worse with time and that people and food are dying. Throughout the whole story, I knew it was only going to get worse, but I still HOPED it would fix itself. I had faith that the story would find a viable solution to its problem and it would all be okay. The second thing I did not like about this book was the ending. I liked the way she ended it, yes. I liked the way she was able to make me feel heartbroken (that's how you like it's a good book!). But someone dies very suddenly and I was MISERABLE because of it. Julia, for all the problems and issues she dealt with, in her home and outside, she deserved so much more. Walker broke my heart because she tore away something precious to Julia and it was all a product of their environment. So I guess you could say that it's the plots fault.

I did not like this book because it had a sad ending. I loved this book because it made me feel. It made me aware of these characters own feelings and desires, their fears and their wishes and how much we take for granted. I was so upset, I wanted the book to feel my pain. If not for the gorgeous cover/dust jacket, I might have thrown this book into the nearest wall.

I would recommend this book to those who want to know what could happen if the world did come close to the end, and if they want to feel sad/miserable about it. This is not a feel good book. There are very few moments of happiness for any of the characters, and in those moments, you can barely smile for you know they won't last forever.

Happy (hopefully) reading.

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