Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Review: "The Miracle Girl" by Andrew Roe

"Word spread. Somehow they heard about the little girl on Shaker Street, the one who almost died—who should have died—but didn't, and now she can't speak or move, she's paralyzed, mute, hooked up to machines and tubes, her body a living statue, but also holy, blessed, a gift from God, a child who heals and gives hope to those in need."

Eight-year-old Anabelle Vincent is in a coma-like state called akinetic mutism. She is unable to move or speak, and no one is sure whether she has any idea what is going on around her. Following the accident that left her in this condition, her parents made the decision to care for her at home rather than institutionalize her.

One day, a friend of her mother experienced what seemed to be a miracle after spending time in Anabelle's presence. She also noticed a religious statue weeping. Word quickly spread, and the visitors started coming from near and far, desperate to spend a few minutes with Anabelle, hoping against hope that she might help them or a family member combat disease, distress, infertility, poverty, or other problem. Within a few months, Anabelle has become an utter phenomenon, and people wait for hours on end outside her house for a chance to experience the same type of miracles that so many others have.

Anabelle's mother, Karen, has made it her life's mission to care for her daughter, even at the expense of her marriage, as well as her physical and mental well-being. She often can't remember the last time she left the house. Yet as she sees what hope Anabelle is bringing to others, she realizes she cannot deprive people the opportunity for the miracle that evaded the girl herself. So she opens her home to the visitors, the media, even the army of volunteers who help with everything from website updates to schedules.

Anabelle's father, John, left because he couldn't handle the pressure that caring for his daughter was putting on him and his wife. But as he drifts from place to place, job to job, never putting down roots for long, he can't help but wonder if his place is back with his family, despite the strain it may cause. And he wonders if Anabelle might give him the miracle of a family one more time.

Andrew Roe's The Miracle Girl is an insightful look at American life just before the millennium, the desperation of people to believe in miracles and have hope, and how a family copes with the idea that their daughter, whose own life is far from the one they dreamed for her, can provide such benefit to total strangers. It's also a look at the lives of some of those who come to Anabelle for help, as well as a teacher bent on proving that the miracles are hoaxes, and the priest who is part of his archdiocese's investigation into the purported miracles.

I found this book intriguing but uneven. Sometimes it was really compelling, fascinating even, but when the book shifted to the mundane details of Karen and John's lives, I lost interest. The book doesn't really take a position on what is happening, but a plot twist leaves a lot of things unresolved, and actually causes a few more questions than answers. But Roe is very talented, and definitely has created a thought-provoking story that may challenge your own ideas of whether miracles like these truly exist in our world.

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