Middle school is tough for everyone, or at least it should be. How do you learn to be a functioning adult unless you lead a tortured pre-teen existence, trapped in the halls of an institution seemingly full of ALIEN LIFE FORMS WITH ZERO FEELINGS. Or least that’s how my middle school experience was. The halls a mass of students, the rampant hormones and shouts creating a cloud of chaos, and sometimes navigating those halls felt as difficult as, I don’t now, navigating a minefield full of hungry lions OH and also you’re blind. And deaf. And have no legs. So good luck with that.
Our narrator in The Age of Miracles is in the midst of navigating the middle school minefield but she has it way harder than we did, because her world is ending. And I’m not talking about the “I have a crush on a boy and he doesn’t like me back” kind of world-ending, I’m talking about HEY THE ACTUAL WORLD IS ENDING.
Because time, you see, is slowing down. The 24 hour day is no longer. Instead it slows to 28 hours, 36 hours, eventually 48 hours and longer. Animals and plants die. The sun becomes a flaming cancer ball, something to be avoided, untrustworthy to the point that people can’t even use it to grow food.
Julia is 12 years old, an only child, lonely and without close friends for most of the novel. The author perfectly captures the pain and loneliness of middle school. Julia spends much of her time alone with her thoughts, constantly wondering and worrying…why her friend Hanna no longer wants to hang out with her, how she can talk to Seth, the boy she loves, and why her father spends so much time at the neighbor’s house. She avoids confrontation, preferring to blend into the background whenever possible. And who can blame her?
Remember the middle school lunchroom? Ours was housed in a giant, circular building, encased by windows so natural light would flood in alongside the mass of tweens. The entrance was on one end, while the food was on the other, as if the architect didn’t take into consideration that a shy student would have to walk the gauntlet of tables, filled with students of all kinds, mean and shy and funny and nice and JUST PLAIN WEIRD, not once, but twice, on their lunchtime journey. But the architect didn’t think of this because adults don’t think of these things. Adults have blocked out middle school, that time when you’re no longer a child but not quite a teenager, that limbo of hormones and uncertainty, when you’ve lost the friends you made in elementary school, when you’re just trying to make it through the day without being too visible. Julia has to deal with all of this PLUS the world ending. Poor girl.
This is a quiet novel. Slow. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, whether the slowness of the novel is supposed to mirror the slowing of the days, but it worked. I’m not suggesting the novel was boring, but it wasn’t a big, loud, end-of-the-world novel. After all, how does the world end, but with a whimper?