The Earth is slowing. Days are no longer true “days.” Phrases like the “crack of dawn” lose all meaning, and everyone is taking a stand. The world’s citizens divide into those who follow “clock time” — and those who don’t. Our 24-hour days eventually stretch to 40 hours or longer, with days or weeks stretching with no sunlight. Weather patterns shift; birds begin to mysteriously fall from the sky. Gravity alters. Life begins to dissolve.
For 11-year-old Julia, her sunny life in California is forever altered — and not just by the government-mandated time changes. The Slowing affects everyone: her parents, who experience a sudden rift in their marriage; her friends, who retreat into religion or new acquaintances; her young love interest, who has already experienced a devastating loss and isn’t ready for more.
While some of Earth’s denizens wrestle with the Slowing as a harbinger of the End Times, others use it as the impetus to shake up their quiet existences — joining cults, switching spouses, leaving jobs. As a middle-schooler, Julia understands little of the world’s changes . . . but The Age of Miracles is told from an older, wiser and more broken-down Julia: a woman from the future who knows things don’t pan out well. But we never quite get there.
And that’s my biggest issue — and disappointment — with Karen Thompson Walker’s novel: we never quite get there. Wherever “there” is. We know Julia is reflecting on her youth in California from a decade or so down the line, but we never feel the true grips of despair because it’s all so . . . vague. Despite being a true scaredy-cat, I came into this book hoping for a repeat experience of Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It. That book captivated me, terrified me, left me aching for more . . . and even when life seemed unbearably bleak, Pfeffer knew how to pull us along and save us at the very last moment.
There was no saving here. The tone of the book? Bleak. Confused. No one is redeemed; no one gets saved. Julia is lost in a quagmire of longing and uncertainty, but we never see the Earth deteriorate past a point of recognition. Where rural Pennsylvania turns into a minefield of desperation in Life As We Knew It, suburban California just feels so mundane in The Age of Miracles. I wanted something to really happen, and . . . well, nothing much actually happens. Nothing to satisfy me, anyway.
But here’s the rub: I liked Julia. Because the tale is told from her older, first-person viewpoint, she often comes across as absurdly mature for an almost 12-year-old — but that goes with the narration. Her maturity didn’t bother me . . . in fact, I liked that she was wise enough to discuss the beginning and results of the Slowing so clearly, even if it lacked any urgency.
That’s what was missing for me: that sense of foreboding. I tore through Pfeffer’s novel with my heart in my throat, unable to focus on anything that wasn’t about a lunar disaster, and The Age of Miracles — while well-written and lyrical — lacked any commotion or connection. Honestly, I found much of it boring . . . not something I’d expect when discussing the potential end of the world. (Though we know it doesn’t end.) It did provide some food for thought, especially about the potential breakdown of society, but it wasn’t enough.
Fans of dystopian novels and young adult, coming-of-age tales might find Julia to be a young woman with whom they can relate, but it lacked that urgency that keeps me reading. I didn’t need fiery explosions, volcanoes erupting, nuclear holocaust or a perpetual winter . . . but I did want something to ignite in The Age of Miracles. Like, um, my interest.
3 out of 5!