The Age of Miracles/Karen Thompson Walker: Reflections

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A few months ago, at the Push to Publish conference, Kerri and Marc Schuster were emphatic:  Read The Age of Miracles.  I bought the book at once, but it has taken me this long (oh, life) and another completely sleepless night to finally give my full attention to a story that is, in fact, important, wise, and profoundly well told. 

We talk a lot (I talk a lot) about crossover young adult books—those books that star a young hero or heroine but appeal to adults who remember, adults with capacious hearts.  The Age of Miracles is an adult book, a coming-of-age story, that crosses right back over toward teens—that will be found in high school classrooms, that should be read by those who still have a chance to change this world. The Age of Miracles is a warning.  It is a call (never pedantic, never shrill, never arrogant) to environmental arms.

Walker's heroine is in middle school in California when the rotation of the earth begins to slow.  Days grow longer and so do nights.  Real timers and clock timers emerge.  Grass singes.  Birds die.  The sun cruelly burns.  Whales die.  Tides shift.  Shelters are built.  Peanut butter is stockpiled.  There is a syndrome.

And we readers believe all of this, we hardly question the premise, because the repercussions of Walker's slowing earth are so aligned with, are but merely a slight exaggeration of, the consequences of our own failed living, and because Walker writes with such calm authority.  Her heroine tells her story from the remove of but a few years.  We know she has somehow survived these catastrophic conditions, and we sense that time is running out, but nowhere does Walker play her scenario for its sensationalism.  Walker creates this fictional world with deep tenderness and a clear love for all that we ourselves are systematically destroying.

Walker also cares clearly for her characters, for her young Julia, whose father is distant and whose mother is self-involved, whose best friend abandons her, whose new best friend is also a first love.  Julia is lonely.  Julia is unsure.  Nothing in Julia's life is certain.  The Age of Miracles renders old-world pangs within a new-world crisis with very simplest of language.

The effect is stunning.


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