Slow and steady might not always win the race
When worrying about the potential death of our planet, there are plenty of things to consider: global warming, holes in the ozone layer, bird flu - the list goes on and on. One possibility that I haven't considered until quite recently is the Earth's rotation slowing down, changing the pull of gravity and the cycle of day and night until the planet slowly becomes uninhabitable. Luckily for me, Karen Thompson Walker has imagined this very situation quite vividly in her debut novel The Age of Miracles - so vividly that it has made it onto my list of apocalyptic fears.
Walker's narrator, Julia, is eleven when the slowing begins, and for her, dealing with the sixth grade is enough trouble; she really doesn't need to worry about the demise of her entire species, too. Through her wry observations, we see the dramatic effects the slowing has on both the planet and its people. Plants and animals are the first to go; the produce section of the grocery store quickly becomes smaller and more expensive as various crops fail to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Scientists work around the clock to try to understand and perhaps reverse the phenomenon, while religious cults collect members at an astounding pace. As the days and nights grow longer and longer, a divide widens between those who continue to follow a 24-hour schedule and those who frame their days around the rising and setting of the sun. Julia's family and her school conform to the government supported clock-following majority, and as she begins to wait for the bus in total darkness some mornings and in blinding sunlight on others, her days become as unpredictable as the weather.
This is truly a remarkable book - I can't decide which is more impressive, the way Walker makes this seemingly impossible environmental change seem frighteningly plausible, with every consequence brilliantly and realistically detailed on both personal and planetary levels, or the way she sensitively portrays a young girl's coming of age, making the mundane tragedies of waning friendship and surging hormones every bit as poignant as humanity's struggle for survival. Though comparisons to The Hunger Games and other current dystopian bestsellers are already popping up in reviews, if you're looking for your typical end-of-the-world page turner, this isn't it. However, if you want an original, though-provoking, beautifully written story that builds slowly and burns brightly, you can't go wrong with The Age of Miracles. Even so, I'm not going to let my paranoid sister read it, no matter how good it is!