The Age of Miracles is a Young Adult sci-fi novel (not the space-y kind) by Karen Thompson Walker, and has recently appeared on the Richard and Judy Book Club list.
Now, usually I'm wary of books on that list. There are some true gems to be found there (Room, The Shadow of the Wind), but there are also some very dreary attempts at social commentary (No and Me) and so to see a title that has been on my wish list for months suddenly show up there, it had me thinking it had a very weighted chance of being either oh-my-gawd-awful or simply amazing. To me, that list has no in between.
And so on a 7 hour round trip to Leeds, I started AND finished The Age Of Miracles.
I think that sentence could be the review in itself. To complete an entire book in one journey is a resounding recommendation. I can tell you that The Age of Miracles is possibly my favourite book of the year so far.
It won't be a classic. It won't be heralded as the upholding example of modern literature. The characters wont be names you'll hear in years to come... this book is not "special".... but that is not a sleight upon it. This book is the most uniquely written, explored and realised novel for young adults I have read in a very long time.
It is the modern day, and the Earth's rotation is slowing down. Days and nights are growing longer, crops are struggling to survive, the atmosphere is bowing out to prolonged sunlight, the magnetic field is failing and birds are falling out of the sky. Humans, however, are learning to adapt.
Julia, the narrator of the book, is eleven years old and documents the changing world for the reader along with her personal experiences during what she calls "the slowing". Among the calamities of the changing landscape she is also dealing with growing up, her changing body and middle school. She is finding that her friendships are breaking down, her parents are growing apart and that, maybe, she might like a boy.
I could list the positives of this book all day, and I have so much gushing in my head I'm going to have to subtitle the rest of this review to keep it on track ;)
Why I loved The Age Of Miracles SO much:
Julia is eleven. This was a bit of dodgy ground for me, as I find it hard to relate to characters at such a young age as an adult reader. I find myself picking holes in their actions and questioning whether at eleven they are mature enough for their reasonings. That, however, is in OTHER books. Thompson wrote the most believable eleven year old I have ever read, and that's despite there being a romantic sideline(!)
At eleven, do we fall in love? No, we dont... to be honest, we probably don't even like boys as friends that much yet, but it's the age at which we realise the two sexes probably need to work things out in order for the next stage to happen..."The Crush".
The relationship between Seth and Julia was perfect. They went on adventures, not dates. They struggled to interact in front of people in case it looked weird. They dabbled in a kisses but never even thought of anything more. How refreshing!
The ease of suspended reality:
To imagine a different world is a big ask. That Thompson showed me how it was in her book without pages of descriptive paragraphs is something of an amazement to me. A true master of "show don't tell". Julia explains how the world is changing through anecdotes and through witnessing others panic. It's wonderful.
Ok, so this sounds silly considering I knew it was scifi when I picked it up... but really, this book's sci-fi elements were so well done. I felt like the book was really well researched. I kept checking the maths of the expanding light hours and they all rang pretty true to the books own theory ;) (I'm far too suspicious! haha!) I also liked the proposal of what the human effects of the slowing would be - gravity sickness, frontal lobe deterioration, radiation poisoning, light fatigue... ok, maybe "liked" is the wrong word there!
However, sci-fi fans be warned - this book isn't an all-out "sci-fi" book. It's YA based in a science fiction situation. Don't expect too much!
The underlying message:
The piece de resistance of The Age Of Miracles was the underlying message running through it that catered so well to an older audience. It's hard to explain, as it was only ever inferred but it went something like this:
Are we influenced by the big things in life, or are they just a catalyst for predetermined paths?
There was a lot of cause-and-effect theme-ing throughout the book. The most obvious of which is "if the Earth had kept on spinning, would Julia's parent's marriage have broken down?" but this is also closely followed by "If the Earth had kept on spinning would they have ever righted their relationship?" - similarly we could ask "if the Earth had kept on spinning, would Julia still be friends with Hanna, as she wouldn't have moved away and met someone else?" but we are then told Hanna had abandoned a best friend before, when the Earth was in perfect motion. If anyone else has read this book, I would love to hear your own thoughts on the underlying message of causality in this book... as I don't think I'm explaining it very well!
Was there ANY bad?
My only complaint is that there was never any reason given for the Earth's slowing. But then again... I dont think there needed to be when taking into account "we were here" was all Seth and Julia could think of writing in the cement to mark their existence in the world. They just "were" and so was the the slowing. Shit happens ;)
The Age of Miracles is a nicely original concept that doesn't assume its young readers are unable to process big ideas, while also providing deeper, less explicitly detailed food for thought for older readers in it's themes. I loved this book and will be recommending it to everyone I meet! 10/10!
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The Age Of Miracles - review
Emma is a designer living in Bristol, UK. A self-confessed stationery addict, book lover and TV sci-fi geek, she enjoys sketching zombie-eyed women and finding her next source of inspiration in the pages on the bookshelf.