Sunday, April 24, 2016

Staff Pick - The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a difficult story to pin down. In our catalogue, it's not listed as science fiction, but calling it general fiction doesn't seem to fit either. It's been touted as magical realism, but I would argue that it contains more science than magic. It's also just as much a coming of age story as it is a story about impending apocalypse.

In the not so distant future (a year is never given, but the world is identical to ours as it is now), something strange happens: the world starts spinning more slowly. Somehow, this phenomenon takes everyone by surprise, lay people and scientists alike. We have spent so much time preparing for disaster (global warming, nuclear war, massive natural disasters), but nobody thought to prepare for this. As "the slowing," as it's referred to, continues, the days get longer and longer, from 24 hours to 48 to 96 and beyond. At first, no one is sure what's going to happen. Evangelical Christians are calling it the end of days, conspiracy theorists are calling it a government hoax, and scientists around the world are scrambling to figure out how we can adapt. People start stock piling food and resources, and when the government decides that everyone should follow clock time (in other words, live by the existing 24 hour clock, and not the natural sunrise/sunset), two factions are created: those who abide by the new regulations, and "real-timers" who choose to live by the sun and are ultimately shunned.

At the center of this story is Julia, an eleven year girl who lives in California with her mother and father. While her family and everyone around her is struggling to cope with their new reality of white nights and dark days, Julia is also struggling to cope with the hardships of growing up - first loves, friendships that fall apart, fitting in at school, and parents that can't seem to get along. I loved that Walker was able to perfectly meld these two elements, to make this story just as much about the pain of going through puberty as it is about the disaster. There are plenty of apocalyptic novels written from the perspective of middle aged men and women, but there are very few that let you see it through the lens of a young girl.

Walker is a very compelling writer, I could not put this book down until I had finished it. She has a way of dropping little hints throughout the text that made me keep turning the pages. "That was the last time I ever tasted pineapple." "We were driving a silver station wagon, although the police report would later describe it as blue." They were so subtle, and they always made me think "wait, what?" She also did a beautiful job of creating the voice of Julia and developing her character over the course of the story. This is Walker's debut novel and it is absolutely stunning, with the ability to appeal to a huge audience of readers.

If you've read Age of Miracles and are looking for similar, check out:

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
While this novel may not be about global disaster, it has the same crossover appeal as The Age of Miracles in that it is grounded in normal literary fiction, but with a twist of something almost like fantasy or science fiction. It's also got that coming of age in the face of
an extremely difficult situation twist.

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
While this novel is undeniably a work of science fiction, it contains some truly beautiful prose and the voice of main character Nell reminded me quite a lot of Julia. It also tells the story of young girls growing up in a time of global uncertainty, only this time they're doing it on their own in the woods.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
While this book loses the coming of age element, it does paint a picture of life in suburbia after a catastrophic global event. It focuses on grown-up Kevin Garvey, but still deals mainly with how regular people are trying to cope after the event.

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