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Guest: The Age of Miracles

Courtesy of Amodini | Friday Nirvana | Originally posted 6.25.2012

Lately I’ve been reading books which I would normally have not read – you think the book is of a particular genre but it turns out to be quite something else. I’m glad though for having been able to read these different genres – they are great books and I’m the richer for having read them. There was Exogene by T.C. McCarthy which seemed like a sci-fi adventure set in a genetically-modified future, but which read like a war-novel instead. And then there is Age of Miracles which I requested via NetGalley because of its astounding sci-fi premise. As it turns out, sci-fi is but a backdrop for this wonderful coming-of-age novel.

As I write this, in today’s world, we face a number of environmental challenges. The earth’s climactic patterns are changing, some say due to man’s ill-treatment of the earth. Global warming is on the rise, human waste is piling up, polluting the land and choking natural water systems. Imagine that in addition to all these slow changes there is one sudden, totally unanticipated change – a shift in the earth’s rotation causing our days to no longer be sunlit and our nights to no longer be starry. This is the world this novel is set in.

Julia, the heroine of this novel, is an 11 year old middle-schooler negotiating her schooldays with the help of best friend Hanna. It is during this time that the rotation of the earth changes leading to an influx of minutes into a regular day. The days get larger, initially by a few minutes each day, but the cumulative effect causes the traditional day length of 24 hours to increase by hours, by days and then by weeks.

"At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at school. I remember watching Mr. Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottles water, as if preparing, it now seems to me, for a disaster much more minor."
Initially befuddled, governments and government agencies – schools, offices, hospitals etc. decide to stick to “clock-time”, i.e.; a 24 hour time cycle even though the sun could now set in the middle of the “night” and “dawn” could be dark. Some people, the “real-timers”, decide to go by the sun, but are gradually shunned, leading them to migrate to communes. The sun’s changing rhythms have an effect on most earthly things – the earth’s protective atmosphere burns up, global warming increases, animals change migratory patterns and die mysteriously; there is societal unrest and unforeseen sicknesses. Most people worried, start anticipating the worst; they stockpile supplies, rebuild shelters to guard against the end of civilization, and migrate to be close to families and religious houses. Julia’s own hyper-paranoid mother stocks up, “a rising tide of condensed milk and canned peas” in their cupboards. In between all this, Julia must negotiate her way through fragile friendships, loneliness, death, nascent love and exhilaration.

This book is Thompson’s debut, but reads like it was written by a seasoned writer. Even though I presume that coming of age novels with their personal, mini-scale conflicts are not my cup of tea, I was engrossed. The writing flows; I stopped every couple of paragraphs, rereading her meticulous prose, wishing to commit it to memory. This is that kind of book.

With the great attention to detail, the characters in the book come to life. The events in Julia’s life, as told from her point of view, are so beautifully narrated that I’m there with Julia every step of the way. Julia is finding her way through a very curious time in earth’s history, but even as the world seemingly collapses into chaos it is her story that holds interest.
"It was that time of life: talents were rising to the surface, weaknesses were beginning to show through, we were finding out what kind of people we would be. Some would turn out beautiful, some funny, some shy. Some would be smart, others smarter. The chubby ones would likely always be chubby. The beloved, I sensed, would be beloved for life. And I worried that loneliness might work that way, too. Maybe loneliness was imprinted in my genes, lying dormant for years but now coming into full bloom."
Julia herself, is a very sympathetic character, an introvert who just wishes to meld into the background and remain there in peace; you like her very easily. Julia’s story is the story of her family – her parents and grandfather, her friends – Hanna and Seth Moreno, the boy she secretly adores, her neighbors with their peculiar idiosyncrasies, and her schoolmates with their careless callousness. This is the story of her struggle to stay grounded amid the upheaval they bring, in an uncertain world.

This is a gorgeous book and my pick for 2012, smack dab in June. Highly recommended.
Title : The Age of Miracles
Author : Karen Thompson Walker
Genre : Dystopian/Sci-fi
Publisher : Random House
Pages : 289
Source : Netgalley/Publisher ARC
Rating : 4.5/5

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