The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

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“What if our 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their suburban home in California to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth is noticeably slowing. The enormity of this is almost beyond comprehension. And yet, even if the world is, in fact, coming to an end, as some assert, day-to-day life must go on. Julia, facing the loneliness and despair of an awkward adolescence, witnesses the impact of this phenomenon on the world, on the community, on her family and on herself.”

I received this book for a birthday present and as soon as I picked it up, I was hooked. The story is told though the simple and slightly melancholic eyes of Julia, a tentative, shy eleven-year-old child. When news breaks that the days are getting longer – 56 minutes in the first night – no-one has any idea of the ramifications this will have on the world, but Julia starts noticing changes right away. Firstly, her best friend Hannah moves away – leaving her bewildered and untethered – and she senses her mother Sylvia’s mood shift, imperceptibly and irrevocably. Her overdramatic tendencies and stockpiling habits start going into overdrive.

As the daylight hours get longer, hotter and harsher – at one point burning skin through clothes – society starts to crumble. The world begins splitting between those who live on clock time, no matter what the weather (sometimes the children go to school in the dark), and those who move with the world’s natural light. These ‘real-timers’ are treated with uncertainty and, gradually, outright distrust.

As birds start to fall from the sky and ‘real-time’ communities start popping up in solar-powered wastelands, Julia is plunged further into a maelstrom of pre-pubescent emotions and confusing relationships with the people she thought she knew and the people she has come to know: Hannah, who has returned home but won’t acknowledge Julia any more; Sylvia, Julia’s ex-piano teacher and ‘real-timer’ who seems to move in another world; Julia’s father Joel, who works longer and longer hours, much to the dismay of Sylvia, who is suffering from ‘the slowing syndrome’ and whose mental state is slowly deteriorating. And then there’s Seth Moreno, who’s at the heart of Julia’s disorientating and unusual story. Seth and Julia share a tentative, trembling love, played out in blistering daytime and stolen starlight hours.

As the natural world teeters on the edge of a cataclysmic fate and Julia’s world collapses even further – her father becomes secretive and sneaky, her grandfather’s bizarre, suspicious behaviour more pronounced and Seth is forced to move away – still the scientists can only speculate and guess about what is really happening and how that first irreversible shift has swelled from mere minutes to hours.

“It still amazes me how little we really knew.”

The Age of Miracles was never going to end happily, but Karen Thompson Walker certainly did the book justice – with poignant, wistful words and a simple affirmation: We were here.

This is a haunting, beautiful novel that stayed with me days after I put it down. Evocative, spellbinding and emotive, it is a book that quietly – but forcefully – changes your perspective on the world as you know it.

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