Karen Thompson Walker burst onto the literary scene in 2012 with her science-fiction-meets-coming-of-age novel The Age of Miracles. The book, told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Julia, is about the months after the world begins to slow on its axis. “The Slowing”, as it is called, drastically changes ways of life on earth, resulting in the decimation of crops and an overhaul of the 24-hour clock.
Julia, an only child who lives in a nice Californian community, endures The Slowing and the events it triggers by remaining completely absorbed in the drama of pre-teen life. Even as species go extinct and natural disasters intensify, Julia continues to be distracted by her crushes, changing body, and altered friendships.
The Age of Miracles is propelled by an original and well thought out plot, but is ultimately driven by Julia’s honest, innocent, earnest, and painfully accurate thoughts on youth. Her frustration – with her age, with her family, and with the unfortunate disaster unfolding around her – is palpable. Walker’s ability to depict children accurately is startling, and in many ways more impressive than a writer being able to accurate write about adults. Childhood is so fraught with tension and frustration and complex emotion that it’s nearly impossible to capture in written words. Somehow Walker has managed to create a character who is at once relatable and hard to reach, endearing and unbelievably complicated.
The Age of Miracles could easily have been a failure. Science fiction is tricky to do well, and when an author tries to lace a science-based storyline with humanity and love it becomes all the more complicated. What Walker does is demonstrate that disasters, both natural and otherwise, strike at the very core of what it is to be human. In the face of uncertainty and likely death, people show their true colours. Some elect to continue on in the way they had been before, refusing to acknowledge impending doom. Others rush to accomplish the things they’ve always promised themselves they’d do, fearing there isn’t much time left.
This novel truly does have something for everyone: an inventive plot, beautifully literary prose, criticism of human behaviour, compelling characters, and the insight of an incredibly talented writer.
The Age of Miracles completed blew me away. I read it in a couple of sittings, unable to put it aside without knowing what was to come for Julia and her family. I related more to Julia than I have to most characters in books I’ve read this year, and I felt rejuvenated and inspired when I finished the novel. Walker is the kind of writer that makes other writers strive to be better. She sets the bar high for everyone else in the industry.
Walker’s sophomore novel, The Dreamers, hits shelves on January 8th. A small college down becomes ground zero for the spread of a mysterious disease that causes its sufferers to fall into a deep sleep from which they can’t be woken. Read my full review here.
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