I’m going to say right up front: it was a mistake to read this book during the “rolling blackouts” that led to the power outages in the first week of 2014. Reading dystopia when you’re safe, warm and comfortable is one thing. Reading dystopia when you’re living through a freezing cold weekend without power and realizing all too vividly how precariously our entire lifestyle is balanced on the reliability of electrical power and supplies, is a whole different experience. This is a well-written dystopian novel that starts in a time and place that is entirely relatable and believable — current-day suburban California, as experienced by an eleven-year-old girl — and quickly spins into nightmare as the earth’s rotation inexplicably starts to slow. Days and nights are thrown out of whack and everything reliable about the environment and human culture gradually slips into crisis as 24-hour days become 25-hour, then 30-hour, 48-hour and 60-hour days. Julia, the protagonist, is going through the typical changes and challenges of middle school in a world that appears at first to be keeping a grip on normality, but is changing in ways she can’t even begin to understand.
I found this novel very hard to put down and very hard to forget. While the actual triggering event — the slowing of the earth’s rotation — is farfetched and never explained (which annoyed some readers who were expecting a more sciencey science-fiction book), the resulting devastation is the kind that could occur as a result of any one of a number of ecological disasters. As I said, I was probably more vulnerable to this kind of thinking because I read it during a dark night when we were being warned that our power plants could generate enough electricity to see us through a winter cold spell, so the picture of a world where everything humans have come to rely on slowly falls away was poignant and terrifying. This book gave me chills on a very cold night, and troubled me in a way dystopian visions of the future don’t normally do.