By Karen Thompson Walker. Random House, $26.
On an ordinary Saturday morning in October, 11-year-old Julia learns that the Earth’s rotation has diminished by nearly an hour and is continuing to decelerate. The eerie effects of “the slowing” ripple throughout the novel: Birds lay dead on lawns due to a resulting stronger gravitational pull, and with more hours of sunlight, inhibitions are diminished and rash decisions emboldened. Eventually, “the syndrome”—a disease characterized by dizziness, nausea and fainting—is born. This fearful world is the one presented by the debut novel of former Simon & Schuster editor Karen Thompson Walker.
Despite these potentially apocalyptic circumstances, Walker’s protagonist, Julia, is much more preoccupied with the emotional casualties of the sixth grade. The author sets her scene with assurance and gentility: “This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches over the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove.” As new minutes extend the length of each day and the sun scorches her San Diego community, Julia can’t get over the widening distance between her parents, her skater-boy crush and her best friend’s betrayal. Amid all the pressure, epiphanies about friendship, love and mortality manifest.
Although Julia has neither the spunk nor the irreverence of Harper Lee’s Scout Finch, Walker’s tone can be properly Lee-esque; both Julia and Scout grapple with the standard childhood difficulties as their societies crumble around them. But life prevails, and the stunning Miracles subtly conveys that adapting, extending kindnesses and enduring rites of passage together will always be the things that matter most.