In middle school, everything happens. Your body begins to change. Your heart begins to change. Your life begins to change. And these changes can seem like betrayals. Parents become fallible. Your body grows too big too fast, so that your clothes and your skin no longer seem to fit. Your heart wants what it wants, regardless of how the wanting–or how the object of said want–makes you feel.
Your world begins and ends in hallways that smell the way middle school smells–old paint, sweat, hormones, and the metal of lockers being opened and closed. The girls with balloons announcing birthdays tied to backpacks. The mean girls who tear down in order to feel built up. The jocks and the non-jocks. The girl in the nondescript cookie-cutter house on a street where all the houses are the same.
As the World Turns, and other similar soaps, have nothing on middle school.
But what happens when the rotation of the earth–the real world, and not just the world caught inside a school you probably don’t want to attend–begins to slow, and days stretch on for longer than the normal stretch of days, and nights swell until they seem bigger than all of the stars and around you lives become as out-of-whack as the earth is becoming. Karen Thompson Walker’s magnificent debut answers that question–and others–inside Age of Miracles, which has been described as an adult dystopian novel, but which I can’t help but describe as a mash-up of The Virgin Suicides, Silent Spring, Drop City, and Y the Last Man.
Narrated, years after the slowing began and changed everything forever, by a then-middle school aged Julia, we watch what happens as adjustments to the earth’s rotation causes adjustments to the way life is lived. Canned goods are bought in bulk, as is most everything (guns and ammo, too). Some people decide to adjust with the adjustments; others stick with what they know best, falling out of sync with the world around them. Some of the results make sense, others –like what happens when an astronaut-bearing shuttle attempts to return– don’t. But that’s part of the beauty, because what, when you’re in middle school, makes sense?
To call Walker’s debut an explosion would be doing it a disservice, because her novel is less explosion and more supernova, glowing brilliantly years from now, so that we can only see its reflected light of a world gone by.