book review: the age of miracles

I don’t think I’m unreasonable in being disappointed in Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. The concept of the book is that the planet’s rotation is slowing, and the protagonist is a 12-year-old girl in California just living her life, trying to deal with things like unpopularity and parental infidelity.

One one hand, the book had this science fictional concept of the earth slowing and days lengthening, which is kind of interesting and no more ridiculous than Life As We Knew It‘s moon suddenly getting all up in Earth’s face. But it’s written as if the author had no idea how seasons work. There’s a bit of lip-service to the madness that comes from white nights at extreme latitudes, but the idea that the sun going down at 9pm isn’t a terrifying thing seemed completely foreign to the author. There’s a bit of information tossed in about the earth’s magnetic field, but it was very cursory.

Also, all of the big problems that arise from this global catastrophe are kind of glossed over in simplistic ways. Not just that the 12-year-old protagonist glossed over them because she didn’t get them, but like the author didn’t think it through very hard and just had the idea of monolithic blocks that would react in certain ways across the continent if not the globe.

So it seems to me that the book wasn’t written to be a science fiction book, but a backdrop for this young girl’s story. Fine. I can get behind the idea of a coming of age story in the midst of global crisis. The science and sociology could have been passed off as niggling details to annoy me if the story of the girl was compelling, but I did not find it to be so. There was a boy, and a lack of friends, and death, and a cheating father. It wasn’t terrible, but it felt simplistic and too uninvolving to distract me from the issues I had with the end of the world.

It might be an okay YA book, but I think a lot of readers would be put off by the lack of plot. In any case, Life As We Knew It is a much better YA book in the same vein.

book review: life as we knew it

[photo credit: Giant Moon by Timmy Toucan]
Life As We Knew It is a book by Susan Beth Pfeffer about survival through massive disaster.

Miranda and her family live in kind of rural Pennsylvania and she keeps a diary. She used to figure-skate and her dad lives in Massachusetts with his new wife. Then an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it way closer to earth. I do not know how possible that is no matter how dense that asteroid was, but don’t worry too much about it, because the take-off point is about what a giant disaster this is for the globe. The moon isn’t crashing into the Earth or anything, but the changes to tides cause tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes. There are ash-clouds and it might be the end of the world.

Miranda and her family are better off than some people. Her mom goes into survivalist mode right away and they stockpile food. They have a wood stove and land to get firewood from. They look after their elderly neighbour but other than that it’s a strict “family first” policy. This all happens in the spring, and things just keep on happening through the (almost) year the diary covers.

The big thing is Miranda dealing with how abnormal this makes her life. She vacillates between self-pity and being really strong in a way that feels realistic to how a person outside a story does. I think that’s something that the diary form for a book like this does really well. In Carbon Diaries 2015 the author used the same diary format to really get at what day-to-day life would be like if everything would be different (though the Carbon Diaries was less apocalyptic than Life As We Knew It).

Apart from the cause of the disasters in this book I feel like it’s a really good realistic look at what life immediately post-disaster would be like. There aren’t any zombies (The Walking Dead) or radioactive wastes (Z for Zachariah), just terrible weather and not enough food. I appreciated that it takes place outside an urban centre, so things like looting and violence are more ominous and less omnipresent.

Very good science fiction for YAs who like realistic fiction.