Friday, June 15, 2012

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is one of the rare debut novels that leads people to dream of becoming writers.  Karen Thompson Walker's story has all the elements of a writer's dream come true from a bidding war between publishers, an advance in the millions of dollars (or pounds) to glowing advance reviews.  In fact, the Guardian mentions these successes as an introduction to its review of The Age of Miracles.  (You can read the Guardian's review here.)     The book comes out on June 26 and tt's already on Amazon's list of books for June 2012. 

I'd like to add my voice to those praising The Age of Miracles because of Walker's main character, eleven-year-old Julia.  Julia opens up to us about the details of her life: friendships, crushes, uncertainties.  While these basic topics could easily seem trivial, Julia's voice and innocence draw us in.  We sympathize with Julia as she faces the loss of her best friend Hanna, as her world slowly comes apart both physically and socially.  One of the saddest scenes is when Julia realizes that the slowing has affected schoolyard dynamics:

What I understod so far about this life was that there were the bullies and the bullied, the hunters and the hunted, the strong and the stronger and the weak, and so far I'd never fallen into any group--I was one of the rest, a quiet girl with an average face, one in the harmless and unharmed crowd. But it seemed all at once that this balance had shifted. With so many kids missing from the bus stop, all the hierarchies were changing.  A mean thought passed through my mind:  I didn't belong in this position; it should have been one of the uglier girls, Diane or Teresa or Jill.  Or Rachel. Where was Rachel? She was the nerdiest among us.  But she'd been kept home by her mother to prepare and to pray -- they were Jehovah's Witnesses, convinced that this was the end of days. 
The siding away of safety when Julia realizes that she's no longer in the "middle" comes around the time that Julia notices that her parents' marriage, her father's failures, her mother's sickness, her friend's mother's slow decline, the disappearance of people, increasing alienation and demonization of those who opted for "real time" instead of the government recommended 24 hour days. 

Beautifully written with sensitivity and clear vision, The Age of Miracles is nuanced and deeply engrossing.  It's a story of a strange world with the Earth slowing down, and our environment causing deadly and irreversible changes and a story of young love in the middle of uncertainty.

ISBN-10: 0812992970  $26.00
Publisher: Random House (June 26, 2012), 288 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

About the Author:
Karen Thompson Walker was born and raised in San Diego, California, where The Age of Miracles is set. She studied English and creative writing at UCLA, where she wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin. After college, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the San Diego area before moving to New York City to attend the Columbia University MFA program.
A former book editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work—sometimes while riding the subway.
She is the recipient of the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as a Bomb Magazine fiction prize. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

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