If All of Rochester 2015: Discussion Points for The Age of Miracles


The Author’s Craft

  • What are the multiple meanings of the title of the book?
  • How does the epigraph (taken from James Richardson’s poem “Another End of the World”) set the tone for the book?
  • How does the author inform the reader about the initial setting of the narrative?
  • The narration of the novel is written in first person and is retrospective: the narrator is looking back on her experience as an adolescent. How would the narration, or even the novel, have been different if the narration was from the perspective of an 11 year old?
  • How would the novel have been different if the story had been told by Julia’s mother or father, for example?
  • How are the personalities of the various characters revealed through small details?
  • How are the complications of family relationships depicted? How do they change over time?
  • How are marital and sexual relationships represented?
  • How does the author balance Julia’s coming-of-age story with the more expansive story of the effects of the earth’s slowing?
  • Julia’s mother comes down with the “slowing sickness.” How does her decreasing health affect her and those around her?
  • Discuss how the writing is imagistic or visual. In what ways is it cinematic?
  • Discuss the author’s writing style, including sentence structure, diction, tone, setting, narrative structure, and use of imagery and figurative language such as metaphors.
  • What portions or aspects of the writing did you find most artful and/or enjoyable to read?
  • One reviewer referred to the author’s “lapidary” prose. Find one or two examples of phrases or sentences that stand out for you.


Characters and Motivation

  • Discuss the challenges that the main characters are already coping with before the slowing begins.
  • What do we learn about the other main characters, as well as Julia herself, through the narrator’s observations?
  • Which character is most fundamentally changed by the slowing?
  • How are secrets kept by the novel’s characters?
  • How do the lies of Julia’s father change over the course of the novel and why? Are any of his lies justified?
  • How is the issue of survival characterized and approached in terms of each character’s situation and beliefs?
  • What draws Julia and Seth together?
  • How do the different characters look differently at the workings of “fate” and of their own actions in forming their own futures?
  • In what ways would Julia’s adolescence have been different without simultaneously experiencing the slowing?
  • In what ways does Julia fulfill the role of narrative heroine? Does she remind you of other literary heroines?
  • How does each of the main characters change over the course of the novel? What lessons do they learn? How does each reconsider their lives, their choices, their conception of family, their thoughts about their future? Track their emotional and psychological shifts.
  • What do you admire or dislike about each character? Does this opinion change over the course of the novel?


Issues and Themes

  • Why is the story set in the present day as opposed to the future?
  • What role does the setting of the novel in Southern California play? What does the novel tell us about the people and society of that time and place?
  • What different kinds of friendships and familial relationships are evident?
  • How do the various locations and landscapes become characters in the novel? How does landscape interact with the human characters and vice versa?
  • How does the book differ from other speculative narratives with which you are familiar?
  • How is science represented?
  • How do different characters react to information they receive from news and other public sources?
  • How is the element of discovery revealed through the character of Julia?
  • How are the ideas of tension and balance conveyed in the novel, from plot points to characters to narrative details?
  • How do different individuals cope with the slowing? What are their reactions and their strategies for survival?
  • How is the mundane cast against the drama of the effects of the slowing?
  • What role does religious faith, superstition, or skepticism play in the novel?
  • Discuss how the following play out in the novel and how each affects the characters of the story: friendship, loneliness, desire, religion/faith, superstition, sacrifice, redemption.
  • What defines a coming-of-age novel and how does The Age of Miracles fit that definition?
  • What differentiates a children’s coming-of-age novel from an adult coming-of-age novel, if anything?
  • What is the consequence of the slowing not having a known cause—on the characters and on you as a reader?
  • What is the significance of the narrator at the end of the book saying, “what happened then is well known” and not offering any more to readers? What does it say about the author’s style of storytelling?
  • How are death and dying portrayed?
  • Is the story ultimately tragic? Why or why not?
  • What is the significance of the book ending with an uncertain future? What does it say about the importance of storytelling?


Speculative Questions for Discussion or Writing

  • What do you think the author’s motivations were in writing this novel? Tell your story.
  • Why are so many readers (and increasingly writers) drawn to stories about the end of the world or of potential apocalypse?
  • Would this story affect older readers differently than younger ones? Why?
  • Do you relate more to the real-timers or the clock-timers? Why?
  • How would the narrative have been different if scientists could have confirmed that the slowing was temporary?
  • Did the novel make you look at or feel differently about the changes our planet is undergoing now?
  • If you woke up to the same news as the characters in the book do—that the rotation of the earth is slowing—how would you react?
  • How do stories function in a society and for the individual? What are the purposes of telling and retelling stories to ourselves and to others?


Related Writing Projects

  • What would you do in Julia’s situation?
  • Write a few entries in a reflective journal by Seth.
  • Write what happened that Julia said had been well documented but did not share with readers.
  • Write what happens after the end of the novel.

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