There’s a genre of fiction that I’m sure everybody has read but no one actually knows the name of. It’s known as bildungsroman and it is perhaps the most popular genre. This is because at their core, works classified as “bildungsromans” are stories about the growth of an individual character, often from youth to adult, though that’s not required. In fact, the word is German and translates to formation novel. From Jane Eyre to To Kill a Mockingbird to the Harry Potter series, examples of bildungsroman novels abound. We are drawn to them because the heroes are flawed but are able to overcome those flaws to grow and mature. And it is a genre most often seen with young-adult fiction because it offers the opportunity for young readers to learn from the life of another. It is, in fact, a genre that the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series (which I’m reading right now) falls into and is likely why these books have resonated with me.
But yesterday, when I was browsing books available on OverDrive, I stumbled upon The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker and decided to throw it on my Nook in case I needed something non-Nicholas-Flamel-based to read. I have to admit that I am a bit behind the times with this novel (It was published in January 2012 and has been praised widely since then), but I am sure glad I happened upon it.
The Age of Miracles is a coming-of-age bildungsroman that mixes the common challenges young girls the world over face as they grow up – relationships with parents, growing apart from friends, first crushes, bullying, loneliness – and adds in the end of the world. Yes, this is indeed a science fiction novel. But not really. Descriptions of “The Slowing” and the effects of it on the Earth are believable. Unlike most details of science-fiction, the slowing is truly something you could visualize happening tomorrow. The novel is told through the eyes of 12-year-old Julia, an only child growing up in South California. Walker’s prose is lyrical without being dense and simple without being boring. The first few sentences will draw you in:
“We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it. We did not sense at first the time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath the skin. We were distracted back then by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth.”
And Julia’s descriptions of the time following the slowing will keep you rooted to your seat. Passages like this one, for example:
“For a while the days still felt like days. The sun rose and the sun also set. Darkness was followed by light. I remember the cool swell of morning, the slow burn of afternoon, the sluggishness of dusk. Civil twilight stretched for hours before fading finally into night. Time slunk lazily by, slower and slower as it passed. With each new morning, we fell further out of step with the clocks. The earth still turned and the clocks still ticked, but they now kept different times.”
I dare you to try to put this book down, because I guarantee you, you will not want to stop before you get to the end.