Angie Kim’s debut novel Miracle Creek stays with the reader long after you’ve finished. At times touching and uplifting, and at times sad, Miracle Creek is always emotionally moving.
Miracle Creek has been a wildly successful debut novel. Time has called it a “gripping… page-turner.” The Washington Post has called it “a stunning debut about parents, children and the unwavering hope of a better life, even when all hope seems lost.” And O Magazine calls it “a quick-paced murder mystery that plumbs the power and perils of community.” Author Angie Kim notes that fans of Liane Moriarty and Celeste Ng would enjoy this novel.
In Book Club Babble’s interview with Angie, she indicated that the novel’s genre can best be characterized as part legal thriller, part coming of age story, and part women’s fiction. Angie also indicated that the novel would appeal to parents, immigrants, and anyone interested in learning about parenting a special needs child. I would also add that it appeals to mystery aficionados. In the novel, there are a wide variety of parties and possible suspects regarding the accident that serves as a central plot point.
Miracle Creek is the name of a fictitious rural DC-area town. At the novel’s beginning, readers meet the children and parents involved in hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), which is used to treat conditions ranging from autism and developmental delays to infertility in adults. In the novel, the HBOT is run by the Ang family, who immigrated from Korea in the not too distant past. A seemingly accidental explosion occurs, leading to the death of a patient and parent, which sets the stage for the events which subsequently unfold.
Miracle Creek is a whodunit, leaving the reader guessing as to the perpetrator until the very end. However, it is also a deep study of the challenges of parenting special needs children, and a hard look at parenting in general, especially in an uber competitive environment such as the Washington, DC area, where parents push children to achieve in a constant keeping up with the Joneses race. According to the novel’s description, Miracle Creek uncovers the worst prejudice and best intentions, tense rivalries and the challenges of parenting a child with special needs.
The reader learns about the past histories of all the children and adults involved at the time of the accident, both those receiving therapy as well as the Ang family. It is this exploration of emotion and hardship that makes the novel so moving. At times I had to take a break from reading because I empathized greatly with the children involved.
In addition to being a whodunit, Miracle Creek is also a legal thriller, with compellingly written courtroom scenes. Throughout the trial scenes and flashbacks, the reader learns that not everything is as it initially appears to be.
These topics are all very familiar to the author. Angie speaks from experience, which is one of the reasons this novel resonates so strongly with the reader. Angie lives in the Washington, DC area, has worked as a trial attorney, and is a mom of three boys. In fact, one of her children underwent hyperbaric oxygen therapy for a chronic illness. Furthermore, her family immigrated to the United States from Korea when Angie was a teenager. We explored all these topics during Book Club Babble’s interview of Angie.
One of Angie’s motivations for writing this novel was to explore the definition of happiness, and what that may mean for different people. The mothers of special needs children depicted in Miracle Creek wish their children were “normal,” whatever that means. But in the relentless search for treatment options to help their children lead happier, more independent lives, these same mothers do not appear to appreciate the time they have with their children, which, as the novel brings home, is too-short-lived.
And for those immigrants who move to another country in search of more opportunities, there is definitely a price. As Miracle Creek portrays, that price may include working longer hours away from family members, giving up the social and support groups of their home countries, and navigating a new language and new customs.
While a difficult emotional read at times, Miracle Creek makes the reader reflect on those things that are truly significant in life. The reader comes away with the message that life is short, and that our limited time is best spent on meaningful pursuits and interactions.
For a more in-depth look at Miracle Creek, check out Book Club Babble’s interview with author Angie Kim here.
Miracle Creek makes a fantastic book club read. Here are Book Club Babble’s Book Club Questions to guide you:
- How would you characterize the genre(s) of this novel?
- Do you sympathize with Elizabeth, who is on trial for her son’s murder? Why or why not?
- What could Elizabeth have done differently to be a better mother to her son?
- Do you think Mary’s mother regrets her family’s decision to immigrate to the United States? Why or why not?
- What do you think makes a good parent?
- It seems that many parents get so bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae of raising children (i.e. making sure the brush their teeth, finish their homework, etc.) that they fail to appreciate the fact that they will not always have this time with their children. How can parents live more in the present in their children’s lives?
- Do you think that parents should push their children to achieve, or that parents should give their children more space and independence in learning about natural consequences of actions (or lack of action)?
- Do you think it is ever justified to lie to third parties to protect your children? Under what circumstances?
- Do you think it is ever justified to lie to law enforcement authorities to protect your child? Why or why not? And under what circumstances would it be justified, in your opinion?
- What does happiness mean for you? How would you know if you are happy?