A family in suburban southern California wakes up one day to a startling piece of news: the Earth’s rotation has started to slow. Days are getting longer, spreading out over a few extra hours at first, until eventually one “day” can last 72 hours or more. This has devastating consequences for the planet, but for Julia, the novel’s 11-year-old protagonist, the slowing seems inextricably tied to changes in her own life. Julia is entering adolescence, when everything familiar starts to shift.
Not long after the slowing is discovered, Julia’s best friend, Hanna, moves away with her family, who fear disaster. Julia’s parents’ relationship starts to fray. She finds herself longing after a boy, Seth, who at first seems indifferent to her existence. Julia spends her lunch hours hiding in the school library, friendless, awkward and painfully lonely.
What’s happening outside middle school is just as bewildering. First birds start to die off, then plants. Whales are beaching themselves. The long days are scorchers, the nights freezing cold. After the government imposes “clock time,” encouraging citizens to observe 24-hour days regardless, Julia finds herself attending school in the dark, or trying to sleep through daylight. A colony of “real time” observers breaks off, forming a new society out in the desert. Julia’s mother is stricken by “the syndrome,” a bizarre condition related to the slowing.
The Age of Miracles is Karen Thompson Walker’s first novel, written in the mornings before she went to work. In it, she perfectly captures the disorientation of early adolescence. “This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove,” she writes. These are changes everyone experiences on the road to adulthood, but they’re far from mundane—and in Thompson Walker’s book, with an upside-down world as backdrop, it’s clear how frightening, and sometimes beautiful, the age of miracles can be.