Post-apocalyptic literature — particularly of the young adult variety — is all the rage these days though the genre’s latest, “The Age of Miracles” isn’t likely to leave a lasting impression in the field.
At least not for adults.
OK, so the debut novel by former Simon & Schuster editor Karen Thompson is actually more pre-apocalyptic, documenting what would happen in a world where the earth’s rotation starts to slow down — something the characters in the book refer to as simply “the slowing.”
One day pre-teen protagonist Julia and her family awake to news announcements that the days are growing longer: first by minutes, then hours, then whole “days” of sunlight and dark. Gravity intensifies with the lack of centrifugal force. Birds fall out of the sky. Crops begin to die.
Despite this seeming catastrophe, Julia is still a 10-year-old girl going to school, suffering the embarrassments of not fitting in while secretly crushing on the quiet, brooding skateboarder from down the street.
The world is a scary place for Julia and her peers. Heck, it’s a scary place for every living being on the planet — or at least it should be. Even after the reader suspends disbelief to accept the book’s premise, the world’s reaction to “the slowing” strains logic.
If the world largely stopped spinning, if folks began living long stretches of daylight and long stretches of nighttime, society would crumble. Simple as that. There would be panic that the world is ending, people would stop working, food would become scarce as the world’s crops are starved of sunshine and mass chaos would reign. At some point in the book, one would expect to reach such an apocalyptic stage, but it never quite happens that way.
Magical realism this book is not. Why aren’t more people freaking out?
Instead, people continue going to work. Massive greenhouses are impossibly built to sustain the world’s food supply and Julia still falls in love.
And this is where the book really struggles. It’s a science fiction novel, but it isn’t. It’s young adult, but it isn’t. It’s not quite sure where it lands, and to that end, it is ultimately unsatisfying.
As a young adult book it may be most successful with a younger audience fixating on Julia’s love — and ignoring the more practical and scientific questions most adults will be left asking, largely without resolution.
So while your 12-year-old might be just fine reading Julia’s melancholy coming-of-age story and glossing over the hows and whys of its premise, “The Age of Miracles” lacks the universal appeal that transformed the likes of Harry Potter and Hunger Games into lucrative pop culture franchises.
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