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Middle Grade Monday – Book Review – The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold

This is a beautifully written, quiet book that draws you in to the world of Iris, who is going through one of the most difficult experiences any of us can have – the loss of her best friend. Iris used to live in sunny California where she spent most of her free time in the company of her long term best friend, Sarah. One fateful day the girls are walking home from playing tennis when a car swerves off the road, instantly killing Sarah but narrowly missing Iris. The story begins after Iris’s family (her mother, father, and their cat Charlie) have moved to perpetually rainy Oregon for a fresh start.

Iris’s mother has a fantastic new position at a local university and her father is planning on turning their new, more rural, home into a self-sustaining entity – complete with wind power, gardens, chicken, etc. Iris starts out home schooling, but it’s not long before she decides she’d rather be enrolled in the local school. While she’s understandably reluctant to form new friendships, she really can’t avoid the attentions of Boris, a boy in her grade who sits with her at lunch and is obsessed with the card game Magic.
As their friendship develops, she learns that Boris was a ‘miracle baby.’ He wasn’t supposed to survive long after his birth due to multiple complications that were seen on his mother’s ultrasound. One of his aunts asked her Catholic prayer group to pray to a deceased Pope for intervention. Now that Boris is healthy, a team from the Vatican is coming to interview his family for evidence to add to the process for this deceased Pope to become a saint. Iris is fascinated by this, and the whole idea of miracles. She wants a miracle for Sarah – she wants to be able to see her again. In fact, she is somewhat obsessed with the idea that Sarah’s ghost is living under the stairs in their new house.

This novel is an engaging exploration of the grieving process. It’s not at all morose, although Iris’s feelings of melancholy are evident. Her friendship with Boris is complex and we learn through her voice the process of starting over and making new friends. All of the main characters are well realized, including the adults. I love the characterization of Iris, especially. We get to see her in her full complexity, as an intricately realized preteen. I would highly recommend it for collections serving 4th through 6th grade students.

The Question of Miracles (ISBN: 9780544334649) will be on sale February 3, 2015 from HMH Books for Young Readers.