Monday, April 22, 2019


A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

The backdraft of a boom immediately sucks readers into Angie Kim's dazzling debut, Miracle Creek. In rural Virginia, Korean immigrants Pak and Young Yoo live with their teen daughter, Mary, striving for success. Their business, Miracle Submarine, uses a hyperbaric oxygen chamber where patients undergo atmospheric pressure therapy to help with problems such as spectrum disorders, brain injuries and infertility.

Pak, a certified technician, always runs the chamber. Then one night he asks his wife to lie and leaves her alone at the controls, resulting in a compellingly layered and tragic answer to Pak's simple question "What could go wrong?" A disastrous confluence of circumstances, mistakes, emotional burdens and shame culminates in an explosion that kills two patients and injures others, including Pak and Mary.

A year later, through the murder trial of Elizabeth Ward, who stands accused of targeting her own son, who was being treated for autism, Kim masterfully unwinds the events leading up to the blast, intentionally caused by a fire. With an inordinately large pool of potential suspects in addition to Elizabeth, the various pressures that work on those associated with the Yoos and their patients paint a complicated picture that Kim mines to extraordinary effect. Protesters threaten the Miracle Submarine business, a potential insurance payout is suspicious, and marital and infertility issues raise red flags.

Kim's writing is stunning in its depth and compassion. The light she shines on the difficulties of parenting a child with special needs and the immigrant experience in the U.S. is unflinching and multi-faceted, evidence that the pressures of life can go almost unnoticed until they detonate in an instant.

STREET SENSE:  A beautiful character study wrapped in a compelling mystery and court drama, Angie Kim's debut has it all. Stunning.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: Standing over the simmering pot, stirring in the curd paste and watching the water turn a rich brown, Young had to laugh at how contented she felt, at the fact that this was the happiest she could remember feeling in America. Objectively, this was the lowest point of her American—no, entire—life..Young should’ve been in despair, so weighed down by the bleakness of her situation, by others’ pity, that she could barely stand. And yet, here she was. Enjoying the feel of the wooden spoon in her hand, the simple motion of stirring sliced onion into the current of the liquid, breathing in the tangy vapors wafting up and warming her face...She and Pak had laughed together today—when was the last time they’d done that? It was as if being deprived of joy for so long had made her oversensitive to it, so that even a sliver of pleasure—the everyday kind she expected and therefore didn’t notice when life was normal—now left her in the kind of celebratory state she associated with milestones such as engagements and graduations.

COVER NERD SAYS:  In an abnormal twist, I read about this book before I ever saw the cover, so I was intrigued and knew I wanted to read it before getting a gander at it. Which means my normal cover "Spidey senses" couldn't do their thing. If I try to be objective about the cover without my love for the book bleeding in, I would say I dig the cover image but am distracted by the font. In some ways, the image/font are a good mix of the character/mystery elements found inside, but I think a different font might have made this a stronger cover.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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