Hello, welcome to my favorite book.
So rarely does it happen that I read a synapsis and predict a five star rating. Even more scarce are the amount of times that rating is achieved. Seriously, do you know how hard it is for a book to meet your unrealistic, and frankly unfair, expectations?
Honestly? I am in awe. Absolutely floored. I don’t say any of this lightly. This was absolutely remarkable. Forget the fact this is a debut novel: this holds its own ground in being phenomenal. There are layers upon layers of issues discussed in this novel, and they are all masterfully brought up and explored. I could write a love letter to this novel, and in a way that’s what I intend to do.
Miracle Creek is a courtroom drama/thriller following a wide cast of characters. Elizabeth, a single mother, in particular is accused of murdering her eight-year-old autistic son named Henry. Prior to his death, Henry was receiving experimental medical treatment for his autism. The treatment was held in a pressurized oxygen chamber overseen by the Yoos, a Korean immigrant family, and it was in treatment that Henry was burned alive. Now, the question of who did it—a tired cold-hearted mother or insurance-payout-seeking family—becomes prevalent.
Before Miracle Creek, I hadn’t read a courtroom thriller; had never even heard the name. The name itself gave a sense of drawn-out boredom. Well, I’m here to report quite the opposite occurred. Instead, this novel is a sophisticated thriller that’s deeply psychological and has you on the edge of your seat. All the while, it hits the right pauses and takes you down alleyways that might seem irrelevant at the time only to prove themselves vital in the end. And yes, all of this just so happens to take place in the midst of a courtroom.
The aspect that amazes me the most is Kim’s ability to speak on such a variety of issues and somehow not have any of them feel underdeveloped.
First, there’s the topic of immigration. As an immigrant myself, the level of nuance explored heartened me. There are many difficulties that come with being an immigrant family that are hard to understand unless you’ve lived through it and it was clear to me this was a personal subject. For one, there’s the issue of even coming to another country. Often, this is done by breaking up a family: having one portion stay in their homeland and the other go abroad to a world of new customs, languages, and norms. There is hardship in both. Most importantly, there is isolation in both. Even when the family is reunited abroad there is a need to work at a slave’s pace just to keep afloat, which leaves children lonely and feeling ungrateful for the level of pent up frustration and resentment toward their parents. It is that precise duality that leads to often harmful consequences.
I also want to go on a small tangent, because I find that recognizing this portion of the novel, however small, is important. In Miracle Creek Young, the mother of the Yoo family, works for a white family as a form of compensation for letting her and her daughter Mary stay at their household. This family isn’t shown as being outwardly mean, but because they are helping the Yoos they also feel a sense of ownership. They find it right to ask and expect Young to work at their business, a grocery store, 7 days out of the week from early morning to nearly midnight. I don’t find it dramatic to say this is modern slavery, and sadly something that often occurs with immigrant families. There truly are white saviors out there that see their “generosity” to immigrants as entitlement or ownership of their lives. I can’t explain the visceral reaction I had to reading a portion of my life, that’s never been mentioned before, reflected on paper.
In addition to immigration, there is a lot of talk of what it means to be a mother and a good mother at that. Specifically, the unrealistic expectations of being entirely selfless as a mother to a physically or mentally challenged child. There isn’t a lot of discussion out there on the everyday toll these mothers face whether from a societal, economical, physical or mental stance. It’s unnatural to expect mothers not to get tired, frustrated, or simply be human. Even as you read Elizabeth’s inner monologue, questionable behavior, or even physical abuse, you can’t help but empathize with her. Something that is once again telling of Kim’s great writing.
Furthermore, I appreciated the conversation about family dynamics in foreign countries. As much as I love other cultures, including my own, I can admit that in comparison to U.S. households we’ve got a long way to go in order to achieve equal ground between spouses. There is this idea that the man of the household must always seem superior in public, and even act so in private, while the wife remains submissive. In Miracle Creek, readers are able to witness the dangers in this dynamic and how it can lead to disastrous outcomes.
Finally, the perspective of sexual assault from a predator and victim standpoint was painfully beautiful to witness. I can’t seem to stop applauding Kim, but honestly the level of complexity not only achieved but explored was enlightening. I don’t want to reveal too much for fear of ruining someone else’s reading journey with this novel, but I will commend two things on the subject. One, is the manner in which things unravel and progress, and how unbearably different two people’s account of the same event can be. The second being consequences both legally and mentally.
If you couldn’t tell: I want you to pick this up. Everything from autism, to what it means to be a mother, immigration, foreign family dynamics, sexual assault, and oh so much more is wonderfully discussed and executed. There are several characters and perspectives and yet they all appear needed and complex. In the end, I cannot commend the author and her writing enough for this wonderful feat of work.
TW: sexual assault, graphic child death scene