The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This book has been getting a lot of hype and publicity, but I knew I had to get on board and read it too since it is about a girl living in a world where the earth suddenly slows down its rotation.  Julia lives with her mom and dad in southern California in a standard suburban development.  Just about to turn 12 she’s got enough on her plate with worrying about changing friendships, loneliness, and becoming more aware of her parents as adults with secrets and a not perfect relationship.  The story is told from a future point of view and Julia often remarks on these things and how she can’t help but wonder how they were affected by the slowing-would things have been that way anyway? It seems, for the most part, yes.  Sure her friend Hanna’s family’s sudden departure to Utah was because of the slowing, but based on Hanna’s treatment of her when she returns it seems like even if the Earth had continued to spin as normal Hanna was the type of girl who would indeed abruptly change allegiances during middle school.  It’s this aspect of the book that has been most touted in the reviews-that it’s a good adolescent story regardless of the framework of the crazy disaster going on.  But that, of course, is the part that was of the most interest to me, so let’s talk about that.

It seems a bit obvious to say, but I find post-apocalyptic books sooooo sad and hopeless. So, quite suddenly one day, scientists announce to the world that the Earth’s rotation is slowing down. What does this mean? The days will keep getting longer.  Now, here was my first issue-they announce it on a Saturday and on Sunday the day is 1 1/2 hours longer. How did the scientists discover this if it hadn’t been happening gradually? It was just weird that suddenly they announced it and then the day immediately lengthened.  The slowing happens quite dramatically and with more and more consequences.  Plants can’t grow without light and as the days lengthen that means periods of 30 or more hours of sunlight followed by the same amount of darkness. Without plants how can animals be fed? What crops and native plants will disappear? Tides are tremendously affected and houses are washed away and thousands of whales get stranded and die. Gravity is changed too. Here’s what was so appealing (and horrifying) to me about this story-thinking of all the ways these things changed life.  Life on Earth as we know it relies on that 24 hour rotation.  When it changes life cannot exist the same way, if at all.  From basic survival-plants won’t grow, people can’t eat.  To the frivolous-gravity makes playing sports hard, so I imagine professional sports would cease.  To inbetween-can planes even fly anymore?? Birds are dropping out of the air.  There is simply no way to fix it and I found it amazing that people even continued to try to live because at some point, possibly soon, the planet would be inhabitable.
Another surprise effect is what happens when people agree to remain on “clock time”-sticking to the 24 hour clock.  Many people choose instead to be “real timers” and live with the light and dark, adjusting their inner clocks to the natural change of light.  I spent a lot of time thinking which would I choose? What was interesting was the hatred the clock time people had for the real timers-vandalizing their homes and driving them our of their neighborhoods.  Would you really care so much how someone else lived their day?  Or is it just in the face of disaster banding together against that which is different?

As I mentioned the story is told from some point of view, but you don’t know how far ahead, so I was super curious throughout about whether everything would explode, or was she telling the story as last person alive? or living sort of normally? on another planet? dying?

It was horrific to imagine in a way very different from other end-of-the-world books and I enjoyed it (while also finding it hopeless and sad.)

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