Review #20: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

I generally try to avoid depressing books. Obviously some books are sad and make me sad, but I try to avoid the ones where the overall tone is essentially bleak. Because of this, I never, ever read apocalyptic novels. They freak me out and make me anxious and depressed and so I generally just choose not to read them. The last time I read an apocalyptic-esque novel was my sophomore year of college, when I had to read Don DeLillo’s White Noise for a class. It freaked me out so badly that I skipped class on the two days we were discussing it, just because I couldn’t handle even thinking about it.

Anyway, the point is, The Age of Miracles is not a book I would have chosen to read on my own. I read a description of the plot a few months back, noted the rave reviews, and decided I’d pass. But then my book club chose it as our next read, and so I had to try it. Let me just clarify again that I do not like these kinds of books, so my opinion of this book is clearly influenced by that preference. But if you do, or at least don’t have a problem with them, you will like this book a lot.

Julia is a typical eleven-year-old in a typical suburban American town living an all-together ordinary existence. Her life is turned on its head, however, when a shocking news report changes everything: the world is slowing down. While the implications of this discovery are initially unknown, it soon becomes clear that the world as she knows it is changing in drastic ways–and quickly. Juxtaposed with the world’s slow destruction is Julia’s development from a child into a young woman, which is marked by normal pre-teen problems including drama between best friends and budding relationships with boys.

This is a beautiful book, and Julia is a really great protagonist–she’s smart and perceptive and completely believable. It was so smart and so well-written that I’d sometimes forget that it was supposed to be YA. I thought that Walker did an excellent job of creating a plausible apocalyptic scenario without going over the top; having a child narrator did a lot to ground the narrative, I think. I appreciated that Walker avoided dramatics: her portrayal of the end of the world is quietly horrific, and she lets the events speak for themselves.

HOWEVER. This meant that the book was bleak as hell. To be fair, Julia’s innocence balances out the despair that sort of permeates the narrative–there’s some hope, even when there shouldn’t be. This made it a little easier to read, but not much. It was simply too close to reality for me, and the fact that Walker held back so much definitely contributes to that. It just was a little too plausible, and that made me uncomfortable (which is probably the whole idea).

Anyway, I’m not the best judge of this book. Objectively, it’s very good. But I didn’t enjoy reading it.

Random, interesting note: I looked at Walker’s acknowledgments page and it turns out one of her mentors was one of my professors last semester. Pretty cool!

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