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The Age of Miracles, By Karen Thompson Walker

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Walker, K. T. (2013). The age of miracles: a novel. New York: Random House.

Paperback $15.00, Kindle $10.00, 304 pages

ISBN: 978-0812982947

Author’s Website and Interviews:

http://www.theageofmiraclesbook.com/author/

http://bookpage.com/interviews/8827-karen-thompson-walker

Online Reviews:

The New York Times-http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/19/books/the-age-of-miracles-by-karen-thompson-walker.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The Guardian-http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jul/13/age-of-miracles-karen-walker-review

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/karen-thompson-walkers-the-age-of-miracles-reviewed-by-ron-charles/2012/06/26/gJQAB0GB5V_story.html

Annotation:  Days and nights slowly melded into one and Julia and her parents watched helplessly as the slowing showed no signs of stopping.

Summary (SPOILER ALERT): Julie, an eleven year old girl and only child, wakes up to what appears to be another normal Saturday morning only to discover that the earth is experiencing a phenomenon called the slowing in which earth’s rotation slows down, causing the days to lengthen by minutes, hours, days, and eventually weeks. Julia’s mother is instantly sent into panic mode while Julia and her father remain level headed taking the slowing one day at a time. The slowing impacts Julia’s neighbors in various ways as some people adapt more easily to the change while others such as Julia’s grandpa believe it is a government conspiracy with others such as her friend Hanna believing it is due to God’s wrath. After weeks of disorder, the government steps in an announces the creation of “clock time” which will follow the traditional 24 hour day which most businesses, school, and government agencies adopt. However, there are people known as “real timers” who reject the government’s attempt at restoring order through clock time and instead decide to live according to when the sun rises and sets. The real timers face discrimination over their “alternate” lifestyle and Julia’s music teacher Sylvia is discovered to have adopted a real time lifestyle and faces persecution at the hands of neighbors who view her as a threat. As the days continue to slow, people begin randomly experiencing what is known as the syndrome, a form of gravity sickness that affects Julia’s mother causing her to hit and kill a pedestrian while driving. It also begins impairing people’s judgment, making people more impulsive and daring and also causes the crime rate to escalate. Julia’s world is turned upside down again after she catches her father lying to her mother about what really happened to the pedestrian she hit. He lies and tells her that he heard from the hospital that the man is doing well and expects a full recovery. However, Julia knows he is lying to appease her mother. After seeing how happy her mother is upon hearing the good news which seems to cause a slight improvement in her health, Julia decides not to expose her father. However, she catches him once again being untruthful after seeing him with Sylvia in what appears to be a romantic affair. In the midst of all the chaos, Julia develops an unlikely friendship with her crush Seth Moreno whose own mother is battling an illness. Seth learns of Julia’s father’s affair and advises her to confront her father which she does upon catching him helping Sylvia pack boxes into her car. It appears that Julia’s father and Sylvia were planning a quick get away. Julia’s grandpa also goes missing at this time and is discovered dead in his nuclear fall out shelter. This chain of events causes Julia’s father to reevaluate his life and attempt to salvage his relationship with his wife, severing ties with Sylvia. Seth suddenly comes down with an aggressive case of the syndrome and is taken to Mexico to help alleviate some of his symptoms. Julia receives one final e-mail from Seth who promises to keep in touch but then experiences a global 72 hour blackout which leaves her unable to contact him. Julia’s life is fast forwarded a few years and she discuses that the days now span weeks and that humanity faces almost certain extinction which causes the government to launch a spaceship called The Explorer which contains memories of life on earth.

Evaluation: I thought the initial premise of the book was fantastic and I thought the author’s writing did a great job of evoking emotions connected to the continued slowing and humanity’s ultimate demise. Although I really appreciated her writing style and felt she did a great job in writing Julia’s coming of age story, I didn’t feel the science fiction aspect of the slowing really added anything to the story. I almost felt that they were two separate story lines that could have existed on their own. I do see the parallels between the destruction of the slowing and Julia’s adolescence but I felt that there wasn’t enough said or explored in terms of the slowing. I felt the book tended to repeat things over and over concerning the slowing and all I really learned was that the days lengthened and that it caused some form of gravity sickness. I would have liked to see the author expand more about the slowing and focus more on the science fiction aspect of the story. I think if you look at the book as more of a coming of age tale, then I think she knocked the ball out of the park with this one as I could completely relate to Julia’s adolescent plight and her struggle to fit in and find her place in the world. Although I was fascinated by the concept of the slowing and its impact on humanity, I did find the writing a tad lackluster and felt it could have been explored more throughout the story more than just the recounting of dead birds and whales. Overall really great character development and I did enjoy Julia’s character and seeing her progress from a timid young girl to a confident young lady who is able to stand her ground and face her fears of adolescent life.

Genre: Science Fiction

Appeal Factors: Evokes an empathetic response for Julia and her struggle with adolescence. It is extremely well-written and the characters are well developed. First-person narrative, character driven and a coming of age story.

Read-alike Titles and Authors:

Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Safekeeping by Karen Hesse

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Brightest Start in the Sky by Marian Keyes

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Awards:

Named “Best Book of the Year” by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, O Magazine, and Kirkus Reviews

Booktalk Ideas:

  •  Ask audience questions to put them in Julia, her mother, her father, Seth’s or Hanna’s shoes. Why does Hanna snub Julia when she returns from Utah? Is this merely her way of coping not only with adolescence but the slowing as well? Julia decides to confront her father about Sylvia. What does this say about her relationship with her father and does this signal a progression from timid young child to a more confident young lady?
  • Present the audience or reader with “if/then” scenarios to get them thinking more deeply about the book and the characters. If Julia hadn’t met Seth and confided in him about her father’s supposed affair, then would she still have been able to confront him and stop him leaving? If Seth hadn’t gone away to Mexico then would that have changed Julia’s view of the world and view of growing up.

Book Discussion Questions:

1. How does the slowing mirror Julia’s adolescence? What impact does the slowing have on her growing up? Relationships with friends? Boys? Parents?

2. The “real timers” in the book face persecution from those who adhere to government mandated clock time. What does this say about society? Why do you think they are so insistent on keeping the old ways?

3. Why do you think Julia and Seth have such a strong bond? Why do you think they were drawn to one another?

4. Do you think Julia’s father’s affair with Sylvia was an escape from what was happening? Do you think his wife knew? How did this revelation change the way you viewed the father? viewed Sylvia and her relationship with Julia?

5. Why does the author create distance between Hanna and Julia? What does the slowing say about childhood relationships? Does Hanna and Julia have to separate in order for Julia to find herself?

6. Do you think the ending of the book provided enough closure? Does the fact that days towards the end of the book now span weeks say anything about the future of earth? Does the launch of The Explorer suggest that humanity faces certain extinction due to the slowing? Does the memoirs contained on the spaceship serve as a warning to others?

I had heard really good things about this book but never got a chance to actually read it until it was selected as a book for a class book discussion. I am a huge Sci-Fi fan and was really interested in reading this after learning that it was about a phenomenon called “the slowing.” I love apocalyptic books and this is a storyline that was new and different than anything I had previously read. The title was another factor that instantly drew me in. I wanted to know what “miracles” the book referred to and was intrigued enough by that factor alone to download the book on Kindle. Prior to reading the book, I read reviews on Amazon and Good Reads and was interested to see how well a story such as this would be carried when it is told from the perspective of a relatively young girl. The fact that it was a coming of age story set in an apocalyptic time made it that much more intriguing to me and I had to know how a young girl is able to survive and come into her own when she is faced with such insurmountable odds.

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