Book Review: MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim

Part contemporary whodunit, part compelling courtroom drama, and part poignant family saga, Miracle Creek is a terrific debut that will appeal especially to fans of literary crime fiction, and of stories about relationships, particularly those of mothers and their children.

Angie Kim’s beautifully-written, first novel tells the tale of the Yoo family of three: Young (the mother), Pak (the father), and Mary, their daughter. They have sacrificed much to immigrate to the United States, with Young coming first to America just with Mary, working from early morning until midnight, always with the goal of a better life for her daughter. When Pak arrives, having had experience in their native South Korea with “HBOT”, the family is eventually able to run a facility of their own in the small community of Miracle Creek, Virginia. “HBOT” is an acronym for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, which is a treatment that many believe can improve outcomes for various illnesses and conditions.

Miracle Creek opens with a gripping description of the potential claustrophobia of the HBOT chamber, and the moments leading up to a terrible event that left people horribly killed and injured. Henry, an eight year old boy on the autism spectrum, was one of the people killed. Fast forward to one year later; Henry’s single Mom is on trial for multiple murders, potentially facing life imprisonment or even the death penalty, accused of intentionally causing the incident that resulted in her son’s death.

The author is a former trial lawyer, and the courtroom scenes are excellent (if ever I am accused of a crime, I pray that I will have a defense attorney like Shannon representing me)! The novel does occasionally get a bit technical and clinical, especially during testimony scenes, but it never feels heavy handed, and will appeal to readers who enjoy learning about something new. Miracle Creek is told in the third person, with chapters that rotate their focus between past and present, and between trial days, and also a small cast of characters, any of whom could possibly have a motivation for causing the calamity for which Henry’s mother, Elizabeth, is standing trial.

Ms. Kim’s complex plot touches upon varied topics, such as the immigrant experience in America, an examination of the US criminal justice system, and, perhaps most profoundly, the critiques and judgments and guilt that many caregivers experience, that can turn into more intense controversies and isolation when parenting a child with special needs. Readers on the spectrum, or those with a loved one with autism will find much in Miracle Creek to ponder and discuss, as the book wades into the potentially treacherous waters of autism “politics”: the anti-vaxers versus those that believe autism is a genetic trait. The organizations that are more cause, treatment, and “cure” oriented, versus those organizations and activists that, possibly addressing what used to be referred to as Asperger’s, focus mainly on accommodation, acceptance, support, and celebrating human variation and neurodiversity.

I listened to the audio book, narrated by Jennifer Lim, and heartily recommend it! It concludes with a wonderful interview between the author and Sarah Crichton, the publisher and editor. In the interview, Angie Kim discusses her writing process, and reveals that many details of the narrative are based upon her own experiences as a Korean-American immigrant, and as a parent.

As the thought-provoking story of Miracle Creek progresses, layer upon layer is peeled back to reveal the secrets that people may keep, and the lies that people may tell, sometimes to protect the ones they love. We learn whether or not Elizabeth is convicted, and all of the fateful pieces of the puzzle that led to what actually happened at “Miracle Submarine”, the ripple effects of which are moving, tragic, and, for some, like the hope placed in the treatment itself, transformative.

Best for Crime Fiction Readers:

  • Who enjoy reading literary crime fiction.

  • Who appreciate courtroom dramas.

  • Who enjoy learning something that they did not necessarily know about when they started reading a work of crime fiction.

  • Who are interested in the immigrant experience, in this case, that of Korean-Americans.

  • Miracle Creek will speak especially powerfully to parents and caregivers of those with special needs and differences.

  • Who don’t mind some sexual content in their mysteries and crime fiction.

  • Who are interested in the relationship and dynamics between parents - especially mothers - and other mothers, and with their own children.

    Pages: 357 (Hardcover)

    Hours: 14 hrs. 5 mins. (Audio Book)

Publisher’s Blurb:

A literary courtroom drama about a Korean immigrant family and a young, single mother accused of murdering her eight-year-old autistic son.

My husband asked me to lie. Not a big lie. He probably didn’t even consider it a lie, and neither did I, at first . . .

In the small town of Miracle Creek, 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. An addictive debut novel for fans of Liane Moriarty and Celeste Ng, Miracle Creek is both a twisty page-turner and a deeply moving story about the way inconsequential lies and secrets can add up—with tragic consequences

MINM Overall Rating: 5/5 Stars