In my efforts to read broadly, I have joined one of my public library’s book clubs. The people that go are fascinating. Not only in how they read books (focusing on themes and messages more than structure and craft) but also in their life experiences. Several people in the group love to talk about themselves.

This month’s book was divisive. Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek deals with medicine that is…shall we say less traditional. The book club was split. Some hated it, others loved it. A few talked about their experiences with “Eastern Medicine” (not really Eastern but unapproved by the FDA). But no one found the characters sympathetic. Because I didn’t read the book for my YouTube videos, I wasn’t originally going to write a critique at all. However, I think it deserves one.

(Since I am calling these Sneak Critiques, they won’t be quite as thorough as my normal critiques.)


This book predominately follows a court case about a hyperbaric chamber that explodes during an oxygen pressurization therapy. Elizabeth, the mother of a son with autism, is blamed for the incident. The owners of the chamber are Pak and Young Yoo, who have immigrated to the USA from South Korea. The explosion occurs while Matt, Teresa, Henry (Elizabeth’s son), Kitt (Elizabeth’s friend), and Rosa (Kitt’s daughter) are all sealed inside during a treatment session. The session ran late because of protesters causing trouble for Pak and his business. If it hadn’t run late, Kitt and Henry wouldn’t have died.

The court case is explosive at times with Elizabeth’s lawyer stating at one point her job is not to find the truth, but to keep Elizabeth out of prison. That statement comes when her lawyer starts to rip into Kitt and Elizabeth tries to stop that line of questioning.

Elizabeth can’t take the pressure anymore, and on day four of the trial, she steals her lawyer’s car and commits suicide while driving out to the site of the explosion. This happens just as Young works out the true nature of the explosion and who caused it.

The truth is eventually revealed.

What Worked

Angie Kim’s character work is quite good. The fact that all of her characters are complex and compelling is what made this such an enjoyable read. Everyone is lying, and a few characters are lying to themselves. If you are trying to create unlikeable characters that keep readers engaged, this is a great example.

The structure of the novel lends itself well to keeping the true nature of events secret. It’s not like other mysteries where we know what happened, just not who. This is a double whammy. We don’t know who or how. Angie Kim plays this close to her chest for a good chunk of the novel, and it works. It plays into Elizabeth’s lawyer’s perspective on how trials work and what they focus on.

What Didn’t Work

Some of the chapters have POVs that don’t feel meaningful. While Matt is testifying we get a section of Pak in the courtroom. I may have missed why this was done, but it felt kind of pointless when the next chapter was Matt’s POV anyway. The non-courtroom part of that chapter felt like it worked, but I don’t understand why it continued into the courtroom still in Pak’s POV.

Almost all of the POVs do a good job following the chapter character. But I did spot a brief change in POV on page 193. We have a spot of POV in Pak’s head in the middle of Young’s chapter.

“Something came to Pak then. A thought that excited him and caused him to open his mouth.”

Without any of the cues that would inform Young of what Pak is thinking about, this could only come from Pak’s POV. This might have been a slip-up or a changed POV. Either way, it is worth saying that readers want to have a consistent POV. A POV can be omniscient or close third or first person, but it should stay that way for the entirety of the scene/section/chapter.

My Thoughts

I understand that the topic of autism and therapies to help individuals with autism is controversial. If a person can’t separate the topic and themes from the craft, then they are missing out on some excellent character work when it comes to Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek.

Voidy won’t get this one.

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