For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to skip Fourth of July celebrations last week and curl up with a novel about the end of the world. I know, super-festive. (I did drink a beer and eat some barbeque chips, so I think I should get some points for that.)
Anyway. This end-of-the-world book was The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It’s the story of Julia, a middle school girl who’s going through her awkward stage at the same time the earth seems to be — for reasons no scientists can pinpoint, the earth’s rotation is changing, and days are getting longer.
This isn’t your average Daylight Savings Time day extension. The days are growing by leaps and bounds, eventually averaging 72 hours of daylight followed by extraordinarily long-lasting darkness. Humanity is split between people who force themselves back onto a 24-hour clock (meaning they’re often starting their days in darkness and ending them in full sun), and those who try to stretch their circadian rhythms to match Earth’s changes.
Walker’s description of this topsy-turvy climate is both on-target and easy to understand. Her answer to the question of what would happen if the world changed its spin is fascinating — to a point. Eventually, though, I got tired of reading about magnetic fields, radiation, and the endless, daylight-filled “white nights.” I was a tiny bit bored with the whole climate-as-character construct.
Especially because the book’s human character, Julia, is so compelling. She’s a completely believable girl who struggles with boys, mean girls, and the idea that her parents’ marriage may not be perfect — all while contemplating the end of civilization.
What’s brilliant about The Age of Miracles is that we can relate to Julia’s experience because we’ve been through it ourselves. At twelve years old, didn’t we all kind of feel like our world was ending, even if it wasn’t literally true? Who didn’t think the universe was out of control, like their world turned upside down, in middle school? Didn’t some hours seem to speed by, while others (ahem, math class) lasted forever?
The apocalyptic tricks in Age of Miracles are neat, but the book really shines when it’s chronicling Julia’s experience, and Walker does that incredibly well. I just wish she’d done it a little bit more.
Carrie Rollwagen is book buyer and co-owner of Church Street Coffee & Books.