The Question of Miracles

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Question of Miracles Book Poster Image
Heartfelt, hopeful meditation on grief and life.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some discussion of researchers Duncan MacDougall, who tried to determine whether souls have weight, and Linus Pauling, who advocated vitamin C as a cure for multiple maladies. Discussion of how the Vatican determines miracles and decides questions of sainthood, and how chicken eggs are cultivated.

Positive Messages

Sometimes, the only way out is through. Life is unpredictable, messy, and difficult, but there’s joy to be had if you can adapt to change.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Observant, empathetic, and self-aware, Iris is interested in moving forward through her grief. She’s quick to form opinions, but she’s just as willing to reassess and soften her views. Boris is friendly and outgoing, despite his lack of popularity at school. Adults are generally warm, caring, and respectful of tweens’ need to find their own way. 

Violence

Brief recounting of child's violent, accidental death.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Several product mentions: Cheerios, Tiffany, Velcro, the card game Magic, Minecraft, Cubelands, eBay, Lego, Rubik’s Cube, Thermos, Wikipedia, Chuck E. Cheese's, Olympus.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Question of Miracles centers on an 11-year-old girl’s grief following the sudden death of her best friend, but it's neither mopey nor maudlin. Protagonist Iris is warm and smart, the kind of kid anyone would want as a best friend, but she's uncertain of her footing without Sarah's reassuring presence. She deliberately keeps the world at bay, unready to risk letting anything new into her heart. Without sermonizing or offering easy answers, author Elana K. Arnold offers comfort by showing how a crucible of grief, as with any major life change, can lead to renewal and growth. Iris' predicament is sad, but the focus is on her path forward. A central thread is a visit by Vatican officials, investigating a boy’s survival as a possible miracle that could lead to a dead pope being named a saint. Catholic themes are treated respectfully but with skepticism. Iris consults a psychic and tries suggested techniques to communicate with the dead.

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What's the story?

Sixth-grader Iris is miserable. Her best friend, Sarah, died recently, and she feels as if a part of herself has been ripped away. Making matters worse, her family has moved from California to Corvallis, Oregon, where Iris knows no one and the rain never ends. But this is her new life, and she makes an effort. She gets to know Boris, an avid Magic player with no other friends. She’s been thinking a lot about miracles -- including why she lived but her friend didn't -- and she's fascinated that Boris himself might be a miracle: Doctors are baffled that he survived birth, and the Vatican is investigating whether a dead pope healed him. Iris becomes drawn to the closet under the stairs, hoping that miraculously she’ll find Sarah there.

Is it any good?

This gentle novel thoughtfully explores grief in all its complexity, particularly the difficulty -- and necessity -- of finding a way to live with the aching hole left by loss and accept uncertainty. THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES is a quiet, character-driven story: It begins after the major dramatic moment in Iris' life and follows her as she tries to figure out who she is without her best friend at her side. 

Elana K. Arnold's Iris is warm and smart, the kind of kid anyone would want as a best friend, but she's uncertain of her footing without Sarah's reassuring presence. She deliberately keeps the world at bay, unready yet to risk letting anything new into her heart. Without sermonizing or offering easy answers, Arnold offers comfort by showing how the crucible of grief, as with any major life change, can lead to renewal and growth.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about grief. Does the portrayal of Iris’ grief in A Question of Miracles seem realistic or unusual?

  • Do you think moving to such a different place makes it easier or harder for Iris to deal with losing Sarah?

  • What do you think of how Iris makes friends and her decision to fall in with an unpopular boy? Is she resigned, brave, open-minded? Have you enjoyed getting to know someone who's unpopular among your classmates or friends?

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