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A Reader of Fictions: In the End - Amy MacDonald

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, August 13, 2012

In the End - Amy MacDonald

The Age of Miracles

Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Pages: 288
Publisher: Random House
Source: Random House via NetGalley

Description from Goodreads:
“It still amazes me how little we really knew. . . Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”

Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker has created a singular narrator in Julia, a resilient and insightful young girl, and a moving portrait of family life set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.


First Sentence: "We didn't notice right away."

Review:
I actually read this over a month ago on the way home from Pittsburgh. Though I generally love long drives, I really wasn't in the mood to do any driving. My dad did end up doing all of the driving, partially because I provided entertainment. After finishing the last few chapters of the book I'd been reading, I let my parents choose from the other books I had along, and then I read the book out loud to them. I finished The Age of Miracles on the drive back to Atlanta.

Reading aloud a book is rather a different reading experience than any other. It's part audiobook, but much more focused than that. It also draws my attention to aspects of the writing I might not have appreciated had I read the book silently. Obviously, I didn't listen to the audiobook, but I suspect it could be really good. My parents enjoyed listening to the book as much as I enjoyed reading it (despite the sore throat).

What reading the book aloud allowed me to fully appreciate was the lovely cadence of Walker's writing. Her book read very smoothly and naturally, but with a somewhat poetic sort of cadence to it. The largely short sentences with some tendency toward repetition might have been a detractor had I been readin the book to myself, but, out loud, I found them simply lovely.

The one issue I had with the writing, one that I feel vaguely nitpicky for even mentioning, was with the way Walker did dialogue. 95% of the time if there was dialogue, it was followed by he said or she said. Most of the other 5% were he/she asked. I get that coming up with other words can be tricky, and this may have been a stylistic decision, but I found it really boring and repetitive to read aloud. Again, this is something I may not have picked up on had I read this the usual way, since I tend to gloss over those.

Much as I enjoyed this book and was seriously fascinated by the concept and consequences of the Earth's slowing rotation, I had some definite suspension of disbelief issues while I was reading this. The thing that gave me the most trouble was accepting that nobody noticed the expansion of the days until they were substantially longer. Not knowing even a theory as to why this might happen was also troublesome, considering that it happened to suddenly and so drastically. I could have accepted a gradual slow down without explanation, but would expect something cataclysmic to result in such a dramatic, quick change.

Moving past that, though, I found, as I always do, the vision of society trying to cope utterly captivating. I did have some more disbelief issues in that things mostly seemed to be going TOO well. Still, it was interesting to see how non-dystopian this was, with the governments actually doing their best to keep the crisis as manageable as possible. The Age of Miracles is very firmly post-apocalyptic. Even if I didn't always understand or agree with where Walker took things, I loved how widespread the implications of the slowing were.

What made this book such a high-rated read for me, though, along with the writing was Walker's glaringly honest description of middle school. Julia is a sixth grader much like I was, abandoned by a two-faced friend to face the awkwardness of sixth grade alone. She suffers from acute loneliness, desperate for connection but unknowingly sending out signals that send people away. She reminded me so much of past self and I just ached for her. Putting aside all of the post-apocalyptic stuff, The Age of Miracles captured what middle school felt like better than anything I've ever read.

Well done, too, is the family drama aspect. As the world falls apart, so does Julia's family. Her parents snipe constantly, her father escaping to work and her mother descending into a disease caused by the slowing. Julia herself alternates between trying to mediate and just wanting to wash her hands of it. The family's relationships, in good moments and bad, felt very legitimate to me, very real.

Though not a perfect book, I really, really liked The Age of Miracles. Walker's idea was new and fresh, her writing lyrical, and her characters well-drawn. I anticipate her next novel highly!



Favorite Quote: "When I think now of that moment in the kitchen, an almost unbelievable thought comes to my mind: There was a time when those two people—that man hunched at the table and that woman shouuting in a bathrobe—were young. The proof was in the pictures that hung on the living room walls, a pretty girl and a bookish guy, a studio apartment in a crumbling Hollywood building overlooking a courtyard and a kidney-shaped pool. This was the mythical period before I was born, when my mother was not a mother and was instead an actress who might make it someday, any day, maybe soon, a serious girl with a lovely face. How much sweeter life would be if it all happened in reverse, if, after decades of disappointments, you finally arrived at an age when you had conceded nothing, when everything was possible."

"Always thinking 'bout tomorrow
Before today is even through
Always thinking 'bout the future
What on earth will happen to you

There's so much more that I could be
So many places that I'll never see
So many lives that I'll never meet
I'll just dream until we get there in the end

And if the world stops spinning
Would I start moving home
And if the world stopped dreaming
Would I stop believing in it all"

Remember: Every comment on a post during Dystopian August is an entry to win one of fourteen dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels IF you've filled out the form from this post.

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28 Comments:

Blogger Lilian said...

I've been seeing this book around A LOT lately. I've seen mixed reviews for it, though it's making quite a splash in the media.

"95% of the time if there was dialogue, it was followed by he said or she said. "
I've been noticing that..or the lack of it in the novels I read. I find that most writers usually leave it out altogether to avoid being repetitive. Or using "murmured" "whispered" "interjected" instead.

"Not knowing even a theory as to why this might happen was also troublesome, considering that it happened to suddenly and so drastically."
I was listening to an interview the author did with NPR and she said the idea of days becoming longer came from a news article she read where there was an earthquake that shifted the Earth's rotation (don't quote me on this) and made the day a teeny weeny bit longer. So maybe in this world there was a lot of earthquakes? just food for thought.

"The Age of Miracles captured what middle school felt like better than anything I've ever read."
Since Age of Miracles is an adult book, I would've never guessed that it had anything to do with middle-school. I am interested in Julia's experiences in middle school even though middle-school wasn't really anything special to me. I didn't get bullied, so that must be a plus!

But what has me most curious is how this book ends. Does a gigantic earthquake make everything okay? or do people move into domes? Hmmmmm...

August 13, 2012 at 12:42 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Leaving it out really is a pretty good solution, at least once you've established who's speaking. It can backfire too, but it's better than eternal he saids.

Maybe. I don't really know. Basically, suspension of disbelief issues. LOL.

The main character is 12 years old (I think), so it's like Room where the target audience is not people of the age group of the first person MC. You are lucky not to have been bullied. It sucks.

I don't tell endings!

August 13, 2012 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

I know exactly what you mean by backfiring!
I had that problem in Hemingway's novels. And also Veronica Roth's Divergent. Where I had to go back and start counting lines. And even then I wasn't completely sure because the line felt like it ought to have been said by another character (it gets messy when there are multiple characters in a scene, chattering away).

So if the day is getting longer, is the night also longer on the other side? Or does Earth not work like that? *scratches head*
Because I kinda like being in the dark... I could sleep longer without the sun ruining my sleep. *night owl right here*

I was kinda bullied in elementary school, but it's not like anyone laid any punches on me. I can't imagine anything wonderful coming out of bullying. And teacher don't help. It's not like they can make people be friends with you. And for the most part, I don't think they notice very much.

FINE. BE LIKE THAT. HMPH.

August 13, 2012 at 8:58 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Sometimes they have a long scene where the characters only say a word or two at a time, and if you don't put in a name every once in a while, I'm like lol whut? Especially those scenes like this:
"This thing happened!"
"Really?"
"Really."
If that's in the middle of a long dialogue, I'm like WHICH CHARACTER DID THIS HAPPEN TO AND WHICH ONE IS INCREDULOUS. I DO NOT KNOW!!!!

Yeah, it's rotating really slowly, so the days and nights are both longer. The extra sleep would be awesome. It was interesting too, because some people stuck to the 24 hour day and some tried to follow the sun.

Oh, I didn't get punched or anything. Just made fun of, which does terrible things to the self-esteem.

*sticks out tongue*

August 13, 2012 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

And sometimes they mess with you and the same character speaks in two consecutive lines! YAHHHH! *flips a...pancake* I need to work on being a better influence.

I just don't know how crops would work. Are all the plants dried up. And what about animals? Like owls?
Going to school in the dark sounds kinda fun.

Ah, I see. Wearing high heels boosts self esteem, according to me. Even though my soles burn. TT_TT

HOW DARE YOU!

August 13, 2012 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

OH NO THEY DIDN'T.

The crops are having difficulties. They're pretty much entirely dependent on greenhouses, much like in Ashfall. Pretty much all the birds died.

High heels do look hot, but I can't bear to wear them if I have to stand for more than like an hour.

NEENER NEENER.

August 13, 2012 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

"Pretty much all the birds died."
Oh fudge. That's my worst nightmare right there. Not because I'm a bird enthusiast, but because dead birds is one of my greatest fears. Probably equivalent to other people's fear of spiders and bees. I especially hate those boring gray ones. ugh. One of my most traumatizing nightmares was being on a bed of gray, dead birds. Just the thought of them falling out of he sky. AHHHHHHHH!!!

"but I can't bear to wear them if I have to stand for more than like an hour."
Ditto. But I feel on top of the world when I do have them on. With their clacking sounds~ I always welcome the extra height.

August 13, 2012 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Pigeons are not your favorites, huh? That's an interesting top fear to have. I am petrified of bees. I see one and I run RUN AWAY. People are always telling me X kind doesn't sting or that I should just be still and they'll leave me alone. EVERYTHING IN ME SAYS TO RUN.

I have a pair of five inch heels in which I am 6' tall. I feel all powerful in them.

August 13, 2012 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

One of my best friends is petrified of bees too. But SHE LOVES BIRDS, ESPECIALLY THOSE BORING, UGLY GRAY ONES. She once enlightened me and told me they were actually called Zebra Doves. And I was all like "WHAT? How are those things called DOVES?" I don't do well with dead pigeons either. UGH.
I just keep starting at dead birds and half the time their HEADS ARE MISSSIINNNGGG...AHHHH! I am so disgusted, but I still look.

I'm okay with bees. But maybe it's because I've never been stung yet.

I don't know how you walk.

August 13, 2012 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

WHY DO YOU SEE SO MANY DEAD BIRDS?

This one time I was sleeping over at my friend's apartment and her bird died over night. That was awful.

I have been stung, though not since like middle school.

WITH MY LEGS.

August 13, 2012 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

THEY HAUNT ME! Or it's because I dislike them that I pay extra attention to them! *shivers*

O_O Oh gosh. What an unlucky...coincidence?
My aunt has a bird, and apparently if you don't pay attention to it (like leave the house for a few days), it'll feel unloved and start torturing itself by flying into the cage bars and pluck it's feathers.

OH REALLY.

August 13, 2012 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

*shudders in sympathy*

IT WAS A COINCIDENCE. Actually, I think that may have been the morning after her mom cooked some food that was so spicy it hurt to breathe.

I AM AN INNOVATOR.

August 13, 2012 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger Kat Balcombe said...

Oh interesting to hear what it was like reading it aloud. I'm going to listen to it on audio, and will now be trying NOT to think of 'he said' 'she said' ;-)

August 13, 2012 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Wah wah! My bad. Too bad you can't have me read it to you, since I skipped most of them. :-p

August 13, 2012 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Adriana said...

So there was nobody even scientists freaking out that the days and nights got longer? What does it mean by gravity gets affected? Can I expect floating middle schoolers? If so that would be awesome.

I can never tell the difference between post-apocalyptic and dysopian.

This sounds like something that can possibly happen which is terrifying. I don't know how it would happen but I'm sure it can.

August 13, 2012 at 6:34 PM  
Blogger aLilLacey said...

I'm pretty good at reading books with a crazy idea like this and accepting it. It's movies that I'm like seriously people, never gonna happen. : ) I'm really untested in reading this. I gotsta know what happens! And how did you read out loud for that long. I would either lose my voice or drool while reading.

August 13, 2012 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger Nori said...

I love reading books out loud! Sometimes when a book is really good, or just beautifully written, I stop reading it the old fashioned way, and finish it out loud. I keep seeing this book around too. And it sounds so good!

August 13, 2012 at 11:09 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

People were definitely freaking out, scientists and regular people too.

No floating middle schoolers, because gravity just ever so slightly heavier, rather than lighter. They didn't mention the impact that had too much, although I think it was part of what messed with the birds.

Dystopian is more like society is awful because of the government, which the MC realizes has been lying. Post-apocalyptic is life is awful because of a natural disaster or something like that, so zombies or atomic bombs might cause a post-apocalyptic future.

The book is great, and she covers a lot of territory. You might want to check it out!

August 14, 2012 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Haha, I'm probably more likely to accept it in a movie, although I spent every moment of The Lake House going THIS CAN'T WORK. Funny that!

I don't know how I read out loud for so long. Mints and water helped. Also, I'm just gifted, I guess!

August 14, 2012 at 8:11 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Me too! Sometimes I'll read just the MCs out loud too, so that I can get a better feel for them or to keep my interest in a boring book.

You should try it, because I think you'd like her writing.

August 14, 2012 at 8:12 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

If you say so~
What did she cook? Curry? Red peppers?

THEN I MUST BE AS WELL. I'VE BEEN WALKING WITH LEGS SINCE I WAS A TODDLER!

August 18, 2012 at 8:34 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

NO IDEA.

Also, I was out walking and saw a dead bird and it was awful and it made me think of you.

HUMANITY IS LUCKY TO HAVE US.

August 20, 2012 at 7:53 AM  
Blogger M.A.D. said...

I think that's really interesting what you mentioned about *reading aloud* allowed you a greater notice of the author's cadence. Funny, but I really enjoy reading a book aloud, and - you are right - some books simply have a beautiful *flow*, and are a pleasure to hear/articulate.

Others may come across as stilted or *awkward*, but I have a great
appreciation for those story writers with a knack for prose and I try to do the same in my own wee writing <3

Mary DeBorde M.A.D.

August 22, 2012 at 3:18 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Reading a book silently can be a completely different experience than reading it aloud or listening to an audio. I love it. Sometimes I read bits aloud to myself for no reason at all. Fairly commonly, if I have time, I'll read dialogue aloud, because it makes the characters feel more real, and I can get a sense for how natural it sounds.

Love when they do that!

August 23, 2012 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

I don't know if I should be flattered or utterly disturbed.

THAT'S A GIVEN.

August 29, 2012 at 10:04 PM  
Anonymous Shannon said...

I love how she tucked little (but very important) asides into the story. One that really made me catch my breath was near the end when she's describing their dinner and simply states, "That was the last time we ate pineapple."

What if we weren't able to do the simplest of things, like eating fruit, ever again? How would you describe the taste of an orange or lemon to someone who'd never even seen one?

Through the delightful, well-written character of Julia, Walker makes you sit back and really think about the "what if's" of our world. She manages to make the situation almost real enough that I found myself lost in the story and very able to suspend my doubts that this could really happen. The best part of the story for me was how Julia's life, at that stage where every single thing a person says or does matters so much, continues on. Her wondering if that boy saw down (or up) her shirt is, in her mind, as important as the birds dying. Oh, the joys of adolescence! Yes, the world may be ending, but did I wear the right colored jacket today?

My first year of high school, my two "best friends" from junior high dropped me. Having to walk into the cafeteria alone at lunch was like facing a firing squad. I can still remember that feeling in the pit of my stomach. Somehow I knew that every single kid in there was watching my every move, waiting for me to do something stupid so they could point and laugh. Does every kid feel this way or did I simply lack any self-confidence until I reached college?

By the way Lilian, I have a horrific fear of squirrels. If there is one around, I swear it will chase me! They are big gross rats with bushy tails. Birds are only slightly better, but not much, which is why I love my cat!

November 12, 2012 at 11:27 PM  
Anonymous Shannon said...

I hope I got the fruit correct in my comment/quote above. I know it wasn't grapes, they had those at her wealthy friends house.

November 12, 2012 at 11:33 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Wow, this is such a thoughtful comment. I really wish I remembered enough to be able to discuss the text in detail and tell you which fruit. I read this back in July though in my memory is painfully bad.

I really adored the writing in this book, some of my favorite this year. Hahaha, you have such a good point about how her view point balances teen worries with the world is ending concerns. Both matter to her a lot, and it's charming and real. Without the beauty of the writing and the strength of Julia's characters, I would have stalled from suspension of disbelief issues.

Well, Shannon, I'm not the right person to ask about whether everyone felt that way. I know I did, but I also had no real friends in school from 4th or 5th grade through sophomore year of high school. Not having friends is miserable. Also, once I slipped in the middle of the cafeteria and people DID point and laugh.

I love my cat because he eats bugs, which are what I can't take.

November 13, 2012 at 1:37 PM  

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