The narrator is 23, looking back on her experiences at the age of twelve, when the earth started slowing. Sean Moreno in the desk in front of hers and the cheap bra she buys at the drugstore are as significant to the twelve-year-old girl as the apocalypse that’s happening around her—both in her family and on the globe—so the novel walks a delicate line between the two. There is an innocence to how the narrator conceives of the world, even though she is older at the time of the telling than she is in the moments she’s remembering.
The developments in human relationships, and particularly American society, are so realistic that they’re painful to see: the conflict between the “clock timers” and “real timers,” the self-segregation of religious communities away from their physical neighbors, the hoarding. Oh, the hoarding.
And the narrator tips her hand now and then toward a darker, inevitable future—she comments that it was “the last grape” she’d ever eat in her life, or that the architecturally invisible room in a classmate’s home was “the first” room like that she’d ever seen. She decides that her classmate is “preparing for a time of monsters,” but the monsters are his neighbors, and possibly his friends. On that level, it taps into the terror of I Am Legend, without the overly literal monsters.
And of course, the monsters come from the places we didn’t expect: the slowing is a thing we never could have anticipated in an age when doctors “conjured” babies “from the wombs of infertile women” and, with the advent of stem cell research, “surely, soon, the lame would have walked.”