Imagine living in a future world where the rotation of the Earth starts to slow — no longer does it take 24 hours for the Earth to rotate, but at first, minutes longer, then hours and eventually weeks. There's sunlight when there's supposed to be darkness and darkness when it's expected to be light. Gravity is affected; animals suffer first, birds falling out of the sky and whales beaching themselves, with some humans close behind, fainting and weak.
This is the premise of Karen Thompson Walker's debut novel, "The Age of Miracles." It's a light science fiction novel that focuses more on the characters and their problems because of the Earth's slowing than the science of why and what happens. Walker chose to tell the story through a 23-year-old woman who is 12 when the slowing starts, so she's looking back and retelling this time to the reader.
The voice is fantastic; Julia is a likable and realistic character. The novel is intended for adults. But because of the age of the main character and the events in the book, many young adult readers also would like this story.
Julia is the only child, and her father is an obstetrician and works overnight most of the time. She is an insightful and kind girl who has plenty of her own adolescent problems to deal with before Earth's rotation throws everything out of whack. Her mother is fretful and opinionated; she has a crush on a boy, Seth, who doesn't seem to know she exists; she doesn't practice her piano, plays soccer and keeps quiet and unnoticed to avoid being teased and bullied.
The novel switches between what's going on with the slowing in the world and how it affects big-picture issues like keeping track of time with a 24-hour system, astronauts stuck on the space station and energy supplies running low — and how the slowing affects Julia's life. Since she is telling the story to readers more than 10 years later, she has some perspective on things that happened.
When her parents start acting out of character, she blames it on the slowing, stating that many people reacted more impulsively that year. When her best friend, Hanna, no longer pays attention to her and becomes friends with someone else, that's also blamed on the rotation problems. Relationships are broken and behavior changes — you guessed it, mostly blamed on what was going on in the world. This is believable, because as much as we may try to deny it, outside events do affect our daily decisions, even though we aren't facing anything as radical as this.
One of the best plotlines that Walker explores is the relationship between Seth and Julia. It's awkward, endearing and accurate and drives the reader toward the end. This is a character-driven novel, and Walker does a good job of introducing new plot points at crucial times in the book to give Julia something new to react to, so that the reader doesn't get bored. That's one reason why I enjoyed this book so much — if not for the characterization, I would have been bored with the slowing in 50 pages.
This is not a disaster novel, which I'm thankful for —there's no end of the world scene or terrible earthquake that Julia and company must survive.
They must adapt to living in a new world, one with fear and uncertainty and some disasters — but none that directly impacts her life. Some science fiction fans might be disappointed in this, but I found it refreshing.
Walker is a former editor at Simon & Schuster, and she wrote this novel in the mornings before she went to work. To find out more about the author and the book, including reading guide questions for a book club discussion, visit http://www.theageofmiraclesbook.com .
"The Age of Miracles" is a New York Times bestseller, and several reviewers from People to O: The Oprah magazine to The Kansas City Star have given it rave reviews. It's an interesting book, one that's perfect for discussion, and might leave you questioning: Could this really happen to us?
Margo L. Dill is the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle grade historical fiction novel. She often reviews books as a columnist for "WOW! Women On Writing" e-zine and her blog, "Margo Dill's Read These Books and Use Them" (http://margodill.com/blog/ ). She lives in St. Louis with her family.