Title: Miracle Creek
Author : Angie Kim
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Publication Date: 04/16/19
“Miracle Submarine’s oxygen tank exploded at about 8:25 pm on August 26, 2008, starting an uncontrollable fire. Six people were inside, three in the immediate area. Two died, Four, severely injured–hospitalized for months, paralyzed, limbs amputated.”
Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama with a lot of very heavy layers that make for some very deep character studies. The legal case is the Commonwealth of Virginia vs Elizabeth Ward, which centers around one primary event (that is really a tangled web of events that the novel delicately picks apart) where the “Miracle Submarine” exploded, killing two individuals, including a young child with ASD. The “Miracle Submarine” is a hypobaric chamber. Readers will learn all the ‘nuts & bolts’ of the science behind this contraption, but basically, it’s an alternative treatment for a varying list of conditions, including ASD and infertility (which are the primary two that we see in this novel).
There are quite a few characters in this title, which sometimes I struggle to keep up with in novels. However, I did not find it difficult at all in this case and enjoyed the alternating chapters, getting tiny snapshots of each character’s background experiences and piece-by-piece getting to see what happened on the day of the explosion.
A quick little ‘X-Ray’ of the characters you will encounter….
★ Pak Yoo — The Yoo family is from Seoul, South Korea, currently living in Virginia, in the US. Pak is the ‘head’ of the Yoo family. He is the owner and operator of the “Miracle Submarine” and is very dedicated to making sure his family, especially his daughter, Mary, have every opportunity for a better life in America. Pak was paralyzed as a consequence of the submarine explosion.
★ Young Yoo — Young is married to Pak and has spent much of her recent years working incredibly long hours in order for her and Mary to live in America. She is a hard working woman who is desperate to rekindle a bond with her teenage daughter.
★ Mary Yoo — Mary is 16 and really trying to find herself. After the explosion, Mary was in a coma for a period of time, but has since recovered.
★ Elizabeth Ward — Elizabeth is on trial for the alleged murder of her son, Henry, who died during the submarine explosion. Elizabeth is a single mother who experienced a lot of frustration with coping with her son’s disability–she is type-A and relentless in the mission to provide her son with the best possible treatments and hope for a ‘cure’ possible.
★ Matt Thompson — The Thompsons are family friends of the Yoos. Matt married into a Korean family and is currently experiencing the strain that infertility can put on a marriage. Matt was ‘diving’ (using the submarine) in hopes to treat infertility and was present during the explosion. Matt’s hands were severely burned during the explosion and he lost fingers.
★ Kitt Kozlowski — Kit isa mother who used the submarine for treatment for her son TJ, who had ASD and engaged in self-injurious behaviors. Kitt is a mother of 5 and I would loosely call her a ‘friend’ of Elizabeth’s–they had a very complex relationship, layered with a lot of conflict. Kitt was killed by the explosion of the submarine.
★ Teresa Santiago — Teresa was also present in the submarine at the time of the explosion and was part of the mom group that went on ‘dives’ regularly to treat the disabilities of their children. Teresa’s daughter Rosa has cerebral palsy, which was caused by an illness in her childhood. Rosa is wheelchair-bound, nonverbal, and uses a feeding tube. Teresa has become a close friend to Young.
I’m not sure I could have asked for much more from this novel. It really takes the framework of what makes up a family, holds it up to the light, and exposes all of the things that make us tick inside… including how far we would go to protect (or teach) those that we love, even when it’s incredibly painful. This novel is heartbreaking, moving, ugly, and beautiful, all rolled up into one unbelievably deep story that ties together the lives of so many.
The best part about this novel is that I think that there is a bit of something for everyone in regards to relatability–but I think that immigrants (especially Asian immigrants) and mothers (especially mothers with children with special needs) will be able to connect to this novel on an incredibly deep level.
This novel is an own-voices title, as the author, Angie Kim, came to America when she was a preteen from Seoul, South Korea. This is very reminiscent of Mary Yoo’s experience, so I am sure she has channeled a lot of personal experience and emotion into the Yoo family, and it really shows. There is so much depth to the experiences, challenges, and triumphs that this family faces–including, but not limited to, the challenge of a patriarchal culture where women do not hold the same power as men (“No man wants a wife who eats or talks too much”), the difficulty of language barriers, racism, family separation, and poverty on the way to a ‘better life’.
“It was as if discarding her Korean name had weakened her, like cutting Samson’s hair, and the replacement came with a meek persona she didn’t recognize or like.”
I also would not be surprised if this is an own voices title for a parent of a child with special needs (I researched and could not find an answer to this). I am not a parent of a child with special needs, so I cannot represent that voice with full authenticy, but as a special educator who has worked with children with special needs, as well as their families, for the vast majority of my life, I would say that she does an impeccable job of capturing the realities of the challenges that these parents face. Not only does she touch on the experiences of these parents, but she does a fantastic job of representing the complexities and variance of challenges that parents face, based on their child’s disability. One child–Rosa– is wheelchair-bound, uses a feeding tube, is nonverbal, and needs very high levels of assistance for day-to-day activities. TJ is also nonverbal, engages in self-injurious behavior (SIB), and requires moderate levels of assistance. And Henry is verbal and does not require very much assistance with regular, routine activities. But I loved that Angie Kim captured the fact that every one of these parents go through difficulties of their own and how easy it is to compare our own story to that of another–and in the process, we invalidate the difficulties they are experiencing, or we add unnecessary negative-light to their difficulties.
“Having a special-needs child didn’t just change you; it transmuted you, transported you to a parallel world with an altered gravitational axis.”
It was a truly beautiful representation and I think that many parents of children with special needs are going to really resonate with this novel and appreciate the heart that Angie Kim poured into it.
Angie Kim has a real talent for creating characters that are very dynamic. I felt so connected to the characters, as if I personally knew them, and my heart broke throughout the story as I watched all of these characters struggle with their own battles. She also created a conclusion that demonstrates that everything in life is not just black and white–sometimes the answers are more complicated than you expect, with layers upon layers of choices that led to consequences.
I would give more than five stars if I could!
Thank you to Angie Kim and Farrar, Straus & Giroux for providing me with a DRC of this title via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
Trigger Warnings (May Contain Spoilers): infertility, racism, self-injurious behavior (of a child with special needs), infertility, infidelity, inappropriate relationship with a minor, sexual assault, arson