Middle Grade Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

by Karen Thompson Walker
Random House, 2012
ISBN: 978-0812992977
Grades 4-7
Reviewed from copy provided by publisher through NetGalley.
Book Synopsis comes from Goodreads.

“It still amazes me how little we really knew. . . . Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”

Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  There were things I liked and things I didn't.  I'll try to express these in as fair a manner as I can.  I prefer not to give negative reviews and there were things I found compelling about the story, so I'll start with the things that I liked.

Things I liked:   I found Julia a compelling character.  Having been a loner myself through much of my school career I found I could relate to some of her struggles with friendship and the lack thereof.  I found myself pleased when she found someone to connect with.  Her struggles with growing up were certainly realistic and easy to relate to, including her changing relationships with her parents.  The catastrophic changes taking place were certainly something I had never thought of before and found interesting.  I wanted to find out what happened as the earthly changes developed.  I didn't really mind that no real explanation for these changes was given.  After all should some such change occur, we might never know what caused it, so I had no problem with that.

Things I didn't like:  Realistic or not, I am not comfortable with so much swearing and profanity in a middle grade novel. It didn't seem at all necessary.  Also, her portrayal of Mormons was not accurate.  Luckily that proved to be a minor part of the story.  The situation regarding Julia's father and her former piano teacher I found uncomfortable but bearable.  Unfortunately, all too many children find themselves caught in the middle of a struggling marriage. The underage drinking and making out I found disturbing, it's bad enough with sixteen and seventeen-year-olds doing it, it's downright scary for twelve and thirteen-year-olds to be doing it.

I think the thing I struggled with the most however is the tone of the book.  The title, to me, conveys a feeling of hope, of something good happening, of hope overcoming despair.  I guess that does happen to some degree, Julia does find a friend. Her family survives. But then another devastating blow occurs.  The overall feel of the book is sad and depressing.  Despite a few things working out, most of the book chronicles increasing worsening conditions. The end of the book does not convey much if any hope.

As compelling as I found the book, it isn't one I would read again.  I prefer books that convey at least some sense of hope.


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