Miracle Creek by Angie Kim. April 16, 2019. FSG Books.
In rural Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine―a pressurized oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic “dives” with the hopes of curing issues like autism or infertility. But when the Miracle Submarine mysteriously explodes, killing two people, a dramatic murder trial upends the Yoos’ small community.
Who or what caused the explosion? Was it the mother of one of the patients, who claimed to be sick that day but was smoking down by the creek? Or was it Young and Pak themselves, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? The ensuing trial uncovers unimaginable secrets from that night―trysts in the woods, mysterious notes, child-abuse charges―as well as tense rivalries and alliances among a group of people driven to extraordinary degrees of desperation and sacrifice.
Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek is a thoroughly contemporary take on the courtroom drama, drawing on the author’s own life as a Korean immigrant, former trial lawyer, and mother of a real-life “submarine” patient. Both a compelling page-turner and an excavation of identity and the desire for connection, Miracle Creek is a brilliant, empathetic debut from an exciting new voice.
Why Miracle Creek Matters
Students need to see books like Miracle Creek in their classrooms. This is a book by a woman of color that includes representation that is nearly completely absent from the traditional literary canon. The story is set in a rural community and features characters of color, characters with disabilities, and neurodivergent characters. Not only is it essential for students to experience this representation, but the text also requires students to contemplate essential questions about the immigrant experience in the United States, the way neurodivergent children are treated by society, and the toll care for special needs children places on their caretakers. All of these “issues” are presented in such a human and loving way. Kim avoids preaching while exploring specific issues through flawed, yet likable characters and universal themes.
I also love that this book is a page turner! Readers will speed through chapters because they want to know what happens next. But while the book is fast, it’s certainly not fluff. The writing, while not showy, is solid and never gets in the way of the story Kim’s telling. The themes she explores are rich and complex. And, as mentioned, the novel presents social issues without easy answers and requires readers to practice both empathy and critical thinking. Put simply, this is a text that will show students that fun, fast-paced novels can be just as meaningful as the literary fiction they’re required to read.
Miracle Creek would work well in a lot of specialized English courses (Crime Literature, Literature of Immigration, etc.). It could also be used as an independent or book circle read because the writing and plot are pretty straightforward. This would be an absolutely fantastic book to put in the hands of a reluctant reader who loves shows like Law and Order, or true crime TV and podcasts like My Favorite Murder. As a book club book, students would be able to discuss literary components of the novel like perspective and characterization, and enjoy making predictions about where they think the mystery is headed. There are also many research opportunities that could be tied to this book, including criminal justice, autism spectrum disorder, HVAC, and immigration processes. I loved this book and I may end up adding it as a choice read in my Women in Literature class because it’s such a departure from stereotypical “women’s literature.”
Themes and Social Issues: Neurodivergence, immigration, prejudice & biases, motherhood, grief, decisions.
Literary Features: Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama, featuring many of the classic literary tropes associated with that genre. Plot and characterization are developed through witness testimony and evidence, and the story is expertly paced through these trial scenes. Within and without of the trial, Kim uses alternating perspectives and unreliable narrators to enhance the suspense.
Content to Consider: There are two graphic sex scenes in the text, including one sexual assault. Both feel somewhat gratuitous in that they are used primarily for the characterization of female characters. The sexual assault is committed by an 30-something man whose victim is a teenage girl harboring romantic feelings for him. There’s a worthwhile discussion to be had here about assault, power, and the grey areas of sexual encounters when there is a power imbalance, however, this scene may be triggering for some readers.
Grade Level Recommendation: 11th & 12th grades. Students who love crime shows would be particularly interested in this text.