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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Dystopia As A Metaphor For Adolescence

The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker

The Age Of Miracles is a coming of age story set in a near-future in which the earth's spin has begun to slow, leading to a gradual unravelling of society as crops become harder to grow and the earth's magnetic field begins to deteriorate.

 

However, the emphasis is not so much on the disaster as on the emotional life of Julia, the teenager narrator, who has to deal with exactly the same problems that all adolescents face but against a backdrop of slow-motion global catastrophe. People's behaviour - including her own - begins to change as they adjust to the new reality:

 

'We took more risks. Desires were less checked. Temptation was harder to resist. Some of us made decisions we might not otherwise have made.'

 

It is hard to concentrate on school, harder still to believe in the future. Her best friend, a Mormon, takes off with her family to Utah to live in a purpose-built complex and await the end of the world. Her parents' marriage seems to be collapsing.

 

Julia takes refuge in an all-consuming relationship with a boy from school and together they wander through their stricken world finding a precarious happiness as the situation around them grows gradually more hopeless.

 

Although this is a disaster story, it's really all about the everyday. This is dystopia as a metaphor for adolescence and it's beautifully done. The voice of the teenage narrator is pitch-perfect. The tone is sweetly poignant. It's an accomplished debut.