Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Why do you think the author chose the quote from Albert Einstein to serve
as the epigraph for Maybe a Miracle, and how does it apply to the
main characters of the novel? Do you agree with Einstein's contention?
- Beginning with its title, the novel raises questions about the existence
and nature of miracles. According to Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary,
the word can refer to "an extraordinary event taken to manifest the
supernatural power of God fulfilling his purposes," "an event or
effect in the physical world deviating from the laws of nature," and
"an accomplishment or occurrence so outstanding or unusual as to seem
beyond human capability or endeavor." Which of these definitions do you
think applies best to the events of Maybe a Miracle, and why?
- Virtually every occurrence surrounding Annika that is labeled miraculous
by various characters has a scientific explanation offered as well, from the
rose-petal shower to the stigmata. Does the existence of a scientific,
rational explanation preclude the miraculous? If not, how do you decide
which standards to apply and which to reject in evaluating a possible
- Is there room for miracles in a scientific worldview; in other words, can
a person believe in miracles yet also believe in the validity of the
scientific method? Are science and religion fundamentally at odds, as so
often seems to be the case today in such controversies as the teaching of
evolution and intelligent design, abortion, and the right to die? Think
about this in relation to the epigraph, which comes, after all, from one of
the greatest scientists of the 20th century.
- Are miracles proof of God's existence or are they just an indication that
we still have a lot to learn about the physical laws that govern the
- Monroe's attitude toward the Catholic Church and its priests is harshly
negative, influenced by ongoing scandals involving pedophilia by priests and
its cover-up by the church hierarchy. Why do you think Monroe is so focused
on this aspect of the church? In your opinion, is the presentation of
organized religion in the novel a fair one?
- Is there anything about Annika that sets her apart before her accident?
Does she seem changed in any way after she awakens from the coma?
- Do you believe that God or some other force is working through Annika, or
is Annika herself somehow responsible for the so-called miracles? What, if
anything, is their purpose?
- Annika repeatedly manifests the stigmata, nearly always accompanied by
seemingly miraculous effects on others and every indication of extreme pain
for herself. According to Father Ferger, the opinion of the Catholic Church
about such cases, as Monroe expresses it, is that an "anointed few are
here to aid in the redemption and salvation of the world, to serve as a
living reminder of the suffering Jesus endured for us all." What is
Monroe's opinion about this explanation, and do you agree or disagree with
- Does Monroe do the right thing by kidnapping Annika?
- Did you find the relationship between Annika and Monroe as sister and
brother a believable one?
- The author seems to be linking Annika's accident and its aftermath with
the murder of Heidi Morgan and its aftermath. It is no coincidence that
Monroe and Heidi's sister, Allison, fall in love. In what other ways are
these seemingly disparate events linked, and what do you think the author's
point might be in associating them as he does?
- Is Monroe a trustworthy narrator? Are there limitations to the reliability
of his narrative, and if so, what are they?
- Monroe plainly believes there is something excessive and obsessive in the
way his mother turns to religion after Annika's accident. Do you agree? Is
her response a healthier one than that of her husband, not only for herself,
but for Annika and the family as a unit?
- Monroe's mother turns to religion to help her deal with the pain and
uncertainty of Annika's condition; his father turns to work, alcohol, and an
extramarital affair. What does Monroe turn to, and is there anything
similarly obsessive about it?
- Annika is diagnosed as being in "a persistent vegetative state."
This is the same diagnosis applied to Terry Schiavo. Do you think the
parallels between the fictional case of Annika and the factual one of Terry
Schiavo are coincidental or deliberate, and did your feelings about the
Schiavo controversy impact your reading of Maybe a Miracle?
- Monroe calls many American institutions and traditions into question in
the course of the novel, but baseball seems to retain a purity others do
not; it is surely no accident that Annika first starts bleeding from her
palms during a Reds game, nor that she is "cured" of her coma by
being struck with a foul ball. Why do you think the author uses baseball in
- In the accompanying interview, author Brian Strause makes a distinction
between faith and religious belief, then goes on to call Maybe a Miracle
"a celebration of faith." Do you agree with him?
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.