Initially this novel by Karen Thompson Walker reminded me of Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It. The apocalyptic event in both related to a change in the lightness and darkness of days. In Life As We Knew It the moon has been knocked out of orbit, in The Age of Miracles the rotation of the earth has begun to slow. Neither book has an explanation for why its apocalyptic event has happened; there isn’t any hint that it’s a man-made problem. Each book chronicles a journey from childhood into womanhood for two female characters, yet despite starting off in a similar way, each book takes a completely different approach.
In Life As We Knew It, the effects on daily life happen quickly, but despite the fear and tribulations , Miranda’s family actually grows closer, while Julia’s family begins to fall apart, despite the fact that in Julia’s story the changes and effects of the disaster are slow to be felt. In each story the leads are affected by the changes in their one-time best friends. Miranda’s born-again friend Megan and Julia’s friend Hanna start to change and move away from the closeness of the relationship. In both cases, the mothers stockpile food and supplies to prepare for what they dread is coming.
However, in while Life As We Knew It is both a coming of age story, it’s also a story of survival and much darker than The Age of Miracles, which I would argue leans much more toward a coming of age story, the disaster is almost secondary to journey of Julia as she deals with normal childhood issues such as tension in her parent’s marriage, the aging of her grandfather and the shifting sands of popularity, bullying and self-acceptance. It’s just that Julia is dealing with normal adolescent issues while her world is changing, albeit slowly. Although Life As We Knew It is very intense, in fact, in my opinion it’s one of the darkest YA post apocalyptic books, because The Age of Miracles is a much slower pace of change, it actually heightens the tension because the unknown is drawn out over an extended time frame and it’s almost exquisite torture. The fact that people try to live as closely as possible to the lifestyles we are living now is rather spooky, yet I wonder if that’s how things would be if we got the same kind of news. Would people continue to show up for work and school? Would kids still go to soccer practice and birthday parties? Is that denial or stoicism or courage? Would we all try to hold onto our lives as tightly as possible rather than show outward panic? Not everyone in the book is continuing on as if life were normal, people divide into those who live by ‘clock-time’ and those who are ‘real-timers’ who try to adjust to the new rhythms of light and dark and become the target of extreme prejudice.
The story is told in first person by Julia with her retelling the past from an unknown future, which is very effective as you wonder how old she is as she retells the events immediately leading up and after ‘the slowing’ as people later called it. One of my favorite passages is this, “It still amazes me how little we really knew. We had rockets and satellites and nanotechnology. We had robot arms and hands, robots for roving the surface of Mars….We could manufacture skin, clone sheep. We could make a dead man’s heart pump blood through the body of a stranger. We were making great strides in the realms of love and sadness – we had drugs to spur desire, drugs for melting pain. We performed all sorts of miracles….and yet, the unknown still outweighed the known. We never determined the cause of the slowing. The source of our suffering remained forever mysterious.” The passage is really frightening. We have so much to currently worry about, we know the earth is heating up, we know honeybees are dying, we know we are at peak oil, we already fear. What if all the things we fear are nothing compared to some cataclysmic event we cannot even begin to imagine?