In Miracle Creek, author Angie Kim creates a whodunit with a side helping of the difficult realities of achieving the American Dream. Kim blends tragedy, kids with chronic illness, moms who will do anything to help them, teenage angst, and cultural pride. It’s a delicate balancing act, and she does an admirable job.

Young and Pak Yoo emigrate to the United States from South Korea, hoping to provide a better life for their teenage daughter, Mary. Their story is one of hardship, but they also have some Korean American connections that help them succeed. And when we enter the story, the Yoo family is living in Miracle Creek, a small town in Virginia.

They’ve started an alternative health business called Miracle Submarine. The business provides hyperbaric oxygen therapy services to patients hoping for, forgive me, a miracle cure. But life is anything but miraculous for the Yoos. Protestors picket their property. The power goes out, and then the unthinkable happens. An explosion kills two people and injures two others.

Kim’s present day is during the trial of one character, who’s accused of willfully causing the explosion. But as the pages progress, we learn more through copious flashback sequences. Nothing is quite as straightforward as it seems. Motivations are hidden, events are kept quiet, and Kim unspools it all at a fast pace.

My conclusions

Angie Kim’s writing style is tense, taut, and better than expected from a debut author. She’s a lawyer, so the courtroom drama rings true to this layman. Kim is also Korean American, and strikes a respectful and realistic tone in the immigrant story.

And her ability to inhabit her diverse group of characters makes this book even stronger. Too many characters with too little depth is a pet peeve of mine. Kim bypasses the possible pitfalls, and lets her readers fully experience character motivations and emotions.

As a patient with multiple chronic illnesses, I understand the patients in Miracle Creek. The instinct to try practically anything to get better is very strong, even when you know there are inherent risks. So is the desire to try just one more thing, even though you’ve come farther than you originally hoped. Kim conveys these feelings with care and respect.

In the end, one of her final twists was more predictable than the other. But in combination, the book’s ending is strong. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up another Angie Kim book in the future.

If you like mysteries that are layered and complex, I recommend this book.

Pair it with a memoir about living with chronic illness, like Sick by Porochista Khakpour or Ask Me About my Uterus by Abby Norman.