TLC Book Tour Review of “The Age of Miracles” by Karen Thompson Walker

Note: This book is reviewed as part of TLC Tours.

This story has an intriguing thesis, but I thought its promise outweighed its performance.

The premise of the book is that suddenly, the earth’s rotation begins to slow down rapidly, and continues to do so with increasing speed as the days pass in what comes to be called “the slowing.” [The speed of the earth’s rotation is in fact slowing now, but according to NASA the day is lengthening only by about 1.5 – 2 milliseconds per century, an amount hardly noticeable.]

The story of the “slowing” is told through the eyes of Julia, age 11 – ironically just coming into the “quickening” time of adolescence – ‘the age of miracles.”

Julia is an only child, and doesn’t have many friends. She is still at the “uncool” end of her tweens, before her body has developed and her hormones rule her behavior. But much to her surprise, a cute boy in her neighborhood – Seth Moreno – chooses to befriend her instead of the more “worldly” Michaela, and Julia and Seth become inseparable. Together they explore the changes in the world wrought by the huge disruption in the ecosystem, until the damage affects the two of them as well.

Discussion: Most of the post-apocalyptic books I have read have been more optimistic than this one. To some extent they are probably less realistic. Still, I prefer to walk away from a book with a fake happy feeling than with a sense of bleakness and despair (but that’s my own failing as a stick-my-head-in-the-sand kind of person, not the author’s).

So what can I say more “legitimately” about the pros and cons?

We learn right at the beginning that Julia is writing this account as an adult, and often, regarding scientific developments, she interjects a remark like “…we only found out much later that….” But she never applies her grown-up knowledge to interpersonal developments. Some rather bizarre conundrums never get explained, such as what happened with her best friend Hanna, or between her friends Michaela and Seth. And as a grown-up, she should have understood that adults have extra-marital affairs for other reasons besides a change in the tides.

Also, the author only sidles up to the issue of the existential angst created by the fear of the inexorable destruction of the planet. She mentions a debilitating “syndrome” but suggests it results from the constant lack of certainty and predictability in the physical world. What about the psychological effects, especially, the will to live? It seems like it would be a big problem given the impending destruction of all life. In addition, one would assume religious fervor would be overwhelming, but it hardly plays a role. And only at the very end does the author mention the desire of the characters, and of those on earth generally, to make some sort of impact in the brief time they may have left; i.e., to derive a sense of meaning in their lives when the whole concept of life itself loses meaning.

I think that the author gets too caught up in trying to picture the consequences for the physical world, but this cuts into her story about the psychological consequences for the characters.

On the positive side, I always enjoy reading about different visions of apocalypses and dystopias. And to the extent we get to know Seth, I really liked him, but we didn’t really get more than a superficial rendering of his character.

Evaluation: I felt like the author couldn’t decide if the point of view should be that of a very young girl or of an adult, and she vacillates back and forth. I also thought characterizations played a secondary role to world-building (or in this case, world destruction). But there is a lot of love for this book in the reviews on Goodreads – I hope you check them out as well!

Rating: 2.5/5

Published by Random House, 2012

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18 Responses to TLC Book Tour Review of “The Age of Miracles” by Karen Thompson Walker

  1. Sandy says:

    Yeah, but I think you are pretty much the voice of experience when it comes to these types of books, and have many other similar books to compare it too. It doesn’t sound like this one would be at the top of the list. But holy crap…it isn’t a trilogy????

    • softdrink says:

      I am laughing myself silly at the “Isn’t it a trilogy?” remark. It totally should be if it isn’t, since OJ is Queen of the Trilogies.

  2. Richard says:

    Plus, it looks like an 11-year old designed that “attractive” Costco- and Walmart-ready cover. Cover art rating: 1/5.

  3. Care says:

    I trust your insights. And am laughing at Sandy’s trilogy comment. I’m going to pass but that’s OK, this genre isn’t my typical cup of tea anyway.

  4. I’m going to pass too. Most of what you questioned or disliked is similar to what I would have questioned or disliked. The psychological aspect of an apocalypse is what really interests me.

  5. Ti says:

    I don’t know, the title sort of suggests a miracle… and there really wasn’t one. Maybe that is my whole beef with the book. My review posts on the 12th.

    • I got the impression (from interviews I think) that the “miracles” aspect refers to the time of adolescence, which in this case coincides with a “heavenly” miracle [sic] as well.

  6. Jenny says:

    Hmm, you make a good point about the psychological issues not being addressed int he same way. I can’t decide if I want to read this one or not.

  7. aartichapati says:

    I am actually quite happy that you didn’t love this book because the premise really intrigued me and the cover is so pretty, but I didn’t really want to buy it and read it. So now I don’t have to!

    Have you read Beth Pfeffer’s trilogy about the moon’s orbit coming closer to Earth and how that seriously affects life here? I haven’t read it but I have heard many positive things and have it on my wish list. That is a similar premise to this one but may be more successful in execution.

  8. I had really high hopes for this book… bummer.

  9. Staci@LifeintheThumb says:

    2.5? I think I’m in trouble with this one. I’m scheduled to review it on the 19th….

  10. Jenners says:

    Well, all I really want to know is what happens if the earth slows down like that. I love those kinds of scenarios. I can then add it to my “big list of things to worry about.”

  11. hmmm, not sure whether I’d care for this one much. Thanks for your thoughts Jill.

  12. Kelly says:

    I enjoyed your thoughts on this one. I didn’t realize until you verbalized it that I too, while enjoying dystopian novels, only really like the optimistic ones. I like the books where the good guys prevail and life hangs on and survives, I’ve never been a fan of the ‘Debbie Downer’ version of apocalyptic fiction. Think I might take a pass on this one!

  13. stacybuckeye says:

    The earth is slowing? Do I need to buld a gravity chamber?

  14. readerbuzz says:

    Thank you for this honest review. I’ve been eyeing this one. I appreciate your comments.

  15. Marie says:

    I was not too crazy about this one either. Great review examining the good and less good about it 🙂

  16. Darn, too bad this one didn’t turn out to be a favorite for you, but thanks for being a part of the tour.

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