Reading guide for Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

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Miracle Creek

by Angie Kim

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim X
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2019, 368 pages

    Apr 2020, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

In rural Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine—a pressurized oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic "dives" with the hopes of treating conditions such as autism and infertility. But when the Miracle Submarine mys-teriously explodes, killing two people, a dramatic murder trial upends the Yoos' small community.

Who or what caused the explosion? Was it the mother of one of the patients, who claimed to be sick that day but was smoking down by the creek? Or was it Young and Pak themselves, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? The ensuing trial uncovers unimaginable secrets from that night—trysts in the woods, mysterious notes, child-abuse charges—as well as tense rivalries and alliances among a group of people driven to extraordinary degrees of desperation and sacrifice.

Angie Kim's Miracle Creek is a thoroughly contemporary take on the courtroom drama, drawing on the author's own life as a Korean immigrant, former trial lawyer, and mother of a real-life "submarine" patient. Both a compelling page-turner and an excavation of identity and the desire for connection, Miracle Creek is a brilliant, empathetic debut from an exciting new voice. We hope the following questions will enhance your reading group's experience of this thrilling debut novel about how far we'll go to protect our families—and our deepest secrets.

Topics for Discussion
  1. In the opening chapter of Miracle Creek, Young Yoo narrates her version of events on the evening of the HBOT explosion. Why do you suppose the author chose to use first-person narration here, when the rest of the book is written in the third-person? Did this technique influence your reading of the early sections of the book?
  2. What are some of the differences between American and Korean culture that the book explores? How are these experienced by Matt and Janine? By the Yoo family? How are the Korean characters stereotyped by others? How do they defy stereotype?
  3. Autism is diagnosed on a spectrum with a wide variation in symptoms, as evidenced by TJ Kozlowski and Henry Ward. In Miracle Creek, the mothers of autistic children are portrayed as having a wide range of beliefs about treatments for their children. Which of these treatments had you heard of? Do you have an autistic child or know someone who does? Do you agree with Elizabeth that those with autism face a stigma that children with other physical or mental differences don't? Did the book add to your understanding of this disorder, or did it influence your attitude toward parents with autistic children?
  4. Elizabeth's son was doing considerably better than his peers, yet Elizabeth kept exploring additional treatments for him. Why do you suppose this was? Do you think she should have stopped any or all of these therapies? Do you agree with the prosecution, that she was an abusive parent, either because of the treatments or the impatience she showed toward her son?
  5. On the day of the explosion, as well as during the trial, many of the characters make decisions that ultimately change the course of their lives. How might things have turned out differently if, for example, Matt hadn't bought cigarettes, or Janine hadn't gone to see Mary? Has there ever been a point in your life that you can identify in which a decision set your life on a specific trajectory? If you could go back in time, is there a decision you wish you could undo?
  6. At the book's conclusion, do you think there is anyone who can be described as completely innocent? Do you think any good came of the tragedies?
  7. In what ways do you think Young, Pak, and Mary changed, both individually and as a family, after they immigrated to the United States? Do you think the move was ultimately a positive change, or a negative one, and why?
  8. Throughout the book it's revealed that people are lying to their partners.  Why do you think Pak persists in lying to Young, even when it becomes evident that she knows the truth? Why do Matt and Janine continue to deceive each other as well?  Were there any lies in the book that were inconsequential?  Do you think lying can be justified at times?
  9. Shannon and Abe appear to be skillful and highly ethical attorneys. In order to do their jobs, they have no choice but to believe their witnesses as they build their cases. Do either of them doubt any of the information they've been given? What tactics do each of them use to influence the jury? Which one of them do you think would have won the case, had Elizabeth not disappeared? What swayed your opinion?
  10. Were you surprised to discover who was responsible for the fire? Do you view what that person did as murder? Was the sentence fair? How about the sentences of the others?
  11. On the day of the explosion, Young believes a lot has already gone wrong, and Pak is foolish for making additional changes to their routine.  "Tragedies don't inoculate you against further tragedies, and misfortune doesn't get sprinkled out in fair proportions," she thinks. "Bad things get hurled at you in clumps and batches, unmanageable and messy."  Do you agree with her assessment of how bad things occur?  Do you believe Pak was naïve in attempting to frame the protestors?  Was he tempting fate?
  12. Young contemplates happiness, thinking that studies have shown rich people aren't necessarily happy, and people who are poor or disabled aren't necessarily the most depressed. She thinks, "You got used to your life, whatever accomplishments and troubles it happened to hold, and adjusted your expectations accordingly."  Do you agree with her?  What do you think makes people happiest?  What makes you happiest?
  13. What did you think of Elizabeth's reaction when Teresa told her Henry was dead?  Did your opinion of her response change over the course of the book?  Did you ultimately feel sympathy for Elizabeth, or believe her fate was just?
  14. In thinking about Teresa's confession regarding her attitude toward her daughter, Young commiserates, recalling her own rocky relationship with Mary. "This was the quintessential skill of teenage daughters: making you think and say things you regretted even as you were thinking and saying them." Do you agree?  What relationship did your teenage self have with your mother? If you're a parent, what is/was your relationship like with your teenager(s), and has it changed over the years? Do you think teenage girls in general have a more strained relationship with their mothers?
  15. Once Young learned the truth about Mary's involvement, she felt that while she didn't want Mary to be an evil person, "in a way it was worse knowing that her daughter was a good person who made one mistake." What do you think she meant by this? Do you agree?
  16. The author writes that "Kitt and Elizabeth were more like sisters than friends. Not in the we're-closer-than-friends-could-ever-be! way, but in the I-wouldn't-have-chosen-you-as-a-friend-but-we're-stuck-together-so-let's-try-to-get-along way." Do you have relationships like this? Do you think they can be long-lasting, or morph into a more satisfying friendship over time?
  17. The author writes that Pak was a different person in English than in Korean, and speculates immigrants "become child versions of themselves, stripped of their verbal fluency and, with it, a layer of their competence and maturity." Do you believe this is true? Why or why not?
  18. Why do you think Young obeyed Pak's instructions, even though she thought they were wrong? What do you think caused her to rebel at the end of the book?
  19. How did you feel about the book's ending? Is there anything you would have changed about it? 
  20. What one question would you like to ask the author?

These questions are a combination of topics provided by the publisher and ones written by BookBrowse, In combination, they form the core of the discussion threads in our April/May 2020 book club discussion.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Picador. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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