‘Age of Miracles’ explores adolescent angst as world ends

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Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel, “The Age of Miracles” (Random House, 2012), weaves two very different genres – science fiction and coming of age – in a fresh and unexpected way.

The story is told through the eyes of 11-year-old narrator Julia, an only child who lives with her parents in a suburb of Los Angeles. Shy and not particularly adventurous, Julia, like many adolescents, confronts her share of challenges: her best friend moves away, her parents fight and one has an affair, and a boy she likes is aloof one day and nice the next.

One morning Julia wakes up to the news that the Earth’s rotation has suddenly begun to slow, a phenomenon scientists call “the slowing.” Mankind appears headed for doom – days and nights grow longer, people get sick, animals die and plants no longer thrive in the fields.

I suspect that Walker had a lot of fun thinking about what would happen on Earth if the days and nights grew gradually and unalterably longer. But even as the environmental impacts unfold, they do not overshadow the upheaval occurring in Julia’s life. As bad things both small and large happen, Julia and her family continue to do the same ordinary things: they make plans, they make friends and they spend time with their loved ones.

The message of “The Age of Miracles” is that even in the face of catastrophe, people will continue to make the best of adversity and enjoy the small, everyday miracles that many take for granted. Julia says: “We persisted even as most of the experts gave us only a few more years to live. We told stories and we fell in love. We fought and we forgave. Some still hoped the world might right itself. Babies continued to be born.”

What I liked most about “The Age of Miracles” is what it is not. It is neither a thriller about scientists’ frantic efforts to understand and fix the “the slowing” (though some of this is described) nor a teen-pleasing tale of how Julia and her friends implausibly find a way to save mankind. In other words, “The Age of Miracles” is not a Hollywood crowd-pleaser with big-name stars and a predictable happy ending – and I hope that isn’t the fate of this book.

I loved the sense of hopefulness in “The Age of Miracles.” The only recent story I can compare it to is “The Life of Pi” (Mariner Books, 2003). Most book clubs would enjoy it, although I suspect that it would appeal more to women’s groups.

Leslie Ashmore is a Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.

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