The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I have thought a lot about The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker since I finished reading it. I read it almost as soon as I received it in the mail and I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. The more and more I think about it, though, the less I am truly sure what my opinion of this coming-of-age story is.

The Age of Miracles is the story of the earth’s slowing. When the earth’s rotation slows and the days get longer and longer, Julia and the rest of the world try to go on living their life as normally as they can. They keep to a 24 hour clock, waking and going about their days in darkness some days and sleeping through the sunshine. Gravity and climate change affect daily life. There is a mysterious illness associated with the slowing. Everything from the way we grow plants to when we sleep is thrown into uncertainty.

I suppose, in a sense, the ultimate takeaway from this novel is that life goes on in a disaster like this. Will husbands stop cheating on their wives if the world ends? Will middle schoolers stop being, well, middle schoolers just because there might not be a tomorrow? Will first love be any less bittersweet because suddenly the sun is too strong for people to walk outside? The title The Age of Miracles comes from a moment when the narrator, an adult Julie (therefore ruining any suspense about the fate of humanity, since we know that, at the very least, Julie becomes a young adult) compares the time when we are between childhood and adolescence “the age of miracles.” But so too is the earth slowing a horrific kind of miracle.

I was so excited for The Age of Miracles. That amount of anticipation is bound to lead to some kind of disappointment. If you’ve already practically written the book in your head before you’ve read it, it’s never going to live up to your expectations, and that was part of my problem with The Age of Miracles. It never quite was the book I wanted it to be.

This is not a science fiction novel. There is fictional science in this story and it plays an integral role in the story, but at the core of this story is that life goes on. The changes in Julia’s life start with the slowing of the earth, but they would have happened without it, too. Instead of the slowing of the earth being what the story is about, it is simply a metaphor for the upheaval of adolescence. Is there something wrong with that? Not particularly, I just didn’t think it was as interesting a story as it could have been. The Age of Miracles is a melancholy novel and I think the tone works, especially considering the fact that Julia is telling her story as an adult. Julia has some nostalgia for this tumultuous time period, when everything was new and terrifying.

Ultimately, I found The Age of Miracles to be uneven. The characters were very one-note, but I can see how this could come about from the narration style. Julia, after all, would only remember her father a certain way, not necessarily for the complex man he was. But this is also my problem with an adult narrator telling about their childhood: it’s such a limited focus. I wanted to move beyond Julia’s vision.

Some of the details of this novel, though, were perfect. Thompson Walker diligently researched what could possibly happen if the earth’s rotation slowed, and these were some of my favorite parts of the novel. I could have read 100 pages more about the way the world reacted to the slowing instead of Julia’s own small world.

And we’re, unfortunately, back again to the novel I wanted to read, instead of the novel I did read. Sometimes when anticipation is that high, it is the reader’s fault that the novel didn’t live up to the anticipation. Sometimes it is the novel’s fault. In this case, I think it was a little bit of both. The Age of Miracles is good, but it could have been great.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of The Age of Miracles to review. You can read more about this tour, including links to other tour stops, here.

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14 thoughts on “The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

  1. I caught just the tail end of an interview with the author on NPR, and became very excited about this book. It sounded like something I would absolutely adore. However, after reading your thoughts here, I’m thinking that I have much the same book in mind as you had, not the book it actually is. I still think I’d like to read it sometime, but I’m glad to have my misconceptions cleared up ahead of time.

    1. I listened to an NPR podcast that was raving about the book. But other than NPR, there seems to be consensus that the second half wasn’t as strong.

  2. Oh, what a shame! I actually really enjoyed this one and thought that it was much more of a story of one young girl coming of age with the backdrop of the end of the world slowly happening. The other things that happen, such as the infidelity, etc., seemed more of a result of how mass chaos slowly builds and people tend to fall apart and it’s coupled with mid-life crises, etc. all while (for this story at least) this one young girl is going through her own tender and painful moments. I thought it was a very quiet and contemplative story and it really resonated with me. But, not every book works for some that do work for others, so on to the next one! 🙂

  3. I have been curious about this book, but I am not entirely positive if I would like it. I will probably read it eventually just to see, though. Good review!

  4. I think you nailed it when you said that it was never the book that you wanted it to be. *sigh* I was fairly disappointed but how much of that disappointment stems from my specific expectations walking in? Plus, I didn’t really like all of the characters very much. Truly. I was rather meh about their existence in this slowing earth dilemma.

  5. It IS a really interesting concept…and still something that sounds like something I’d like to read. Sorry you didn’t completely love it, but I’m still totally left intrigued :p You have a tendency to leave me feeling that way about books you review 😉

  6. I can definitely relate to being so intrigued by a premise that you basically write the story in your head — and the inevitable disappointment when it’s not as you would have wanted it to be. I’m still interested in this book and tend to enjoy books with a bit of fictional science (like Life As We Knew It, one of my favorites!), though I’ll keep your thoughts in mind!

  7. We had a very similar reaction to this novel. I wanted more from it, or at least something different from it. Overall, I was disappointed, and that disappointment has grown the more I think about all of the interesting ways the story could have gone. I am, however, excited to see what the author does next, as I did enjoy her writing.

  8. I was excited about this one when I first started seeing it pop up, but ultimately I think I’d want a bit more of the science and explanation of what’s going on in the world. Not big on coming of age stories in general, and that’s also what this sounds like. Meh. We’ll see. 🙂

  9. Thank you for your review. I know about that this one has big shoes to fill with a lot of readers. After reading about the bidding wars in several countries to obtain the publishing right, I decided to pass, for now anyway.

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