Miracle Creek by Angie Kim is a must read for book clubs—there’s so much to discuss! The following book club questions will have spoilers so if you haven’t read the novel yet, check out my spoiler-free review first.
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 curing issues like autism or infertility. But when the Miracle Submarine mysteriously 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.
Let’s get into the book club questions
- The story starts with the tragic night from Young’s perspective. Let’s take a look at it again. What are some of the key story elements revealed in this chapter?
- Are you familiar with the hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT? Let’s discuss why each of the characters in the novel decided to try the “miracle submarine.” Why do you think Pak decided they should start up this service?
- Much of what happened that night is revealed through courtroom testimonies. What did you think about the courtroom scenes? Did it all sound realistic to you?
- Did you think Elizabeth had started the fire to kill her son Henry or did you think she was being wrongly accused?
- Let’s now discuss her relationship with Henry. The author really describes the shame and frustration Elizabeth felt with Henry and also her longing that he would be a “normal” boy. Why do you think she pushed him so hard? Do you agree with her that, even though she didn’t start the fire, she played a role in his death? She commits suicide in the end—do you think it would made a difference to her if she had found out the truth about Mary and Pak’s role?
- Much of the novel focus on the immigrant experience. Why do you think Pak thought the U.S. was the right choice for his family? Let’s talk about Mary’s isolation and why she never felt like she fit in. How might have the story played out differently if her parents would have acknowledged her unhappiness? Why did Mary take out her anger on her mother but not her father?
- The protestors’ presence are felt throughout the novel but despite their role in the events that happened, they are never charged. What do you think about this?
- Now let’s focus on Matt. At the end of the novel, Young says: “And Matt—he was the casual root of everything: without him, with his actions and lies to Mary and Janine, they wouldn’t have done what they’d done the night of the explosion.” But Matt was not held accountable for his role in the fire and his assault of Mary. Let’s discuss this and how Matt was the catalyst for all the horrible events.
- Did you suspect that Pak was involved with the fire? Did you ever think Mary was? What did you think about the final reveal of their actions? Young comments that “all that happened was the unintended consequence of a good person’s mistakes.” Let’s talk about this.
- When Mary is released from prison, do you think she’ll ever have a “normal” life?
- Let’s discuss Teresa for a bit. Why did Teresa support Elizabeth, especially when no one else did? Let’s talk about Teresa and Young’s friendship and how they will help each other going forward.
- This novel focuses on parents of disabled children—the struggles, the frustration and the jealousy. Let’s discuss this and the “perfect mother” narrative.
- Young is horrified when she finds out that Pak and Mary played a role in the fire. What did you think about Young’s character development? Do you think she’ll get back with Pak when he’s released from jail or do you think she won’t be able to forgive him? What did you think about the ending?
- In your opinion, what are some of the main lessons in this story?
What to read next
Here’s some more recommendations that will give your book club plenty to talk about!
Where the Crawdads Sing is part murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature—all taking place in the south.
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is a slow-burn read told from multiple point of views.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren—an enigmatic artist and single mother—who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood—and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.
Feel free to discuss Miracle Creek below!