To what lengths would you go to achieve normalcy? To fit in? To have the kind of regular life that everyone around you seems to enjoy? Would you lie? Would you commit murder? Would you frame someone else for the crime? These questions are rooted in Miracle Creek, a mystery/courtroom drama in which a young mother stands trial for the murder of her 8-year-old autistic son.
In her debut novel, Angie Kim shows how a controversial treatment for autism and other health problems can lead to desperation. Parents and others in this story hope that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (H-BOT) will correct, reverse and improve autism, brain damage and even infertility, and give their families the normal lives they deserve.
The story takes place in 2008, in Miracle Creek, Virginia, and is set at the Yoo family’s H-BOT facility where they call their chamber the “Miracle Submarine.” After years of sacrifice, Pak Yoo, his wife, Young and their teenage daughter, Mary, have moved to Miracle Creek to set up their business. Young and Mary have been in the country for four years, waiting for Pak to join them. He has been a “wild-goose-father” in Korea, working for an H-BOT company and preparing to come to America. They are certain this is how they will secure a future for Mary.
Regulars include three hyper-focused mothers who are desperate to improve their children’s, and their own, lives and a young man seeking fertility treatment. During one evening session, an explosion rips through the barn where the chamber is housed. Two people are killed, including the boy, Henry Ward, and others are severely injured. Henry’s mother, Elizabeth, had chosen not to enter the chamber with her son that night and everyone suspects murder.
The story quickly advances one year to the trial where testimony and back stories fill in missing pieces, with just enough lies, secrets, rivalry and false friendships between the mothers to cast doubt on others besides Elizabeth. In a parallel story about fitting in, the reader also learns more about Pak Yoo, his family and their struggles to assimilate into American life, including the prejudice against and ignorance about their Korean culture.
Throughout, Pak is honor-bound to lead and protect his family and Young must decide whether to obey or to think for herself. In addition, Mary’s secret teenage life reveals a shocking relationship with repercussions that shake both their family and the others involved in the treatment.
One of the strongest parts of the story is how Kim’s characters experience a range of troubling emotions including resentment and wild fantasies about being freed from their burdens and contemplating whose life is more worth saving, a sobering look at the roller coaster lives of special needs families.
I enjoyed reading Miracle Creek because of its original ideas and engaging plot and recommend it to readers who like character-driven stories about the devastating impact secrets can have. I’m looking forward to future stories by Angie Kim!
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