As an intrepid journalist, Jonathan Miles has covered a lively array of topics, including bar fights in rural American taverns, and he authored the “Shaken and Stirred” column for the New York Times. Sharp humor and a worldly-wise perspective shape Miles’ fiction. In his first novel, Dear American Airlines (2008), a failed poet is stranded at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. In Want Not (2013), the lives of an assortment of characters become intertwined within a culture of excessive consumption and waste.
Now Miles has brought forth Anatomy of a Miracle: The True* Story of a Paralyzed Veteran, a Mississippi Convenience Store, a Vatican Investigation, and the Spectacular Perils of Grace, a masterful, rollicking, and incisive ripple-effect tale precipitated by the sudden, inexplicable healing of Mississippian Cameron Harris, a paralyzed army veteran who had been injured in Afghanistan. Cameron’s miraculous recovery of the use of his legs outside the Biz-E-Bee convenience mart baffles the medical establishment and creates a frenzy among the faithful and the greedy, including a reality-TV producer. Booklist describes Anatomy of a Miracle as “vibrant, bustling, and humorous . . . a nuanced and endlessly entertaining exploration of the age-old debate between faith and reason.” The novels below orchestrate and investigate similar unlikely miracles and the fervor, faith, avarice, and chaos they ignite.
The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn
by Janis Hallowell
Francesca Dunn is just an ordinary 14-year-old girl until a homeless man claims that he has had a vision of her as the Virgin Mary, and two other homeless men declare that they have been healed by her touch. Word of Francesca’s alleged divinity quickly spreads, and when Anne, Francesca’s archaeologist mother, returns from a dig, she finds people camped out around their house. Rational Anne finds it all ridiculous, but virginal Francesca, who thinks she may be pregnant, is starting to wonder.
The Heart Does Not Grow Back
by Fred Venturini
Dale Sampson has a miraculous superpower: when his hand is all but destroyed by a gunshot wound, his fingers grow back. But nothing will reverse the murder of Regina, the girl he loved, by the same disaffected teen who shot him. After he encounters and falls for Regina’s married identical-twin sister, Raeanne, Dale heads to Hollywood and becomes the star of a reality-TV show, The Samaritan, on which he donates an organ each week to a worthy recipient.
Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard
by Kiran Desai
Sampath Chawla is dreamy, reticent, and shy. Caring little for the world of appearances and things, he aggravates his ambitious father no end and finally flees the claustrophobia of his home and post-office job to live in peace in a tree in a guava orchard. His loving, loyal family rushes out to care for him, and soon Sampath, quickly designated the Tree Baba, is surrounded by followers asking for his blessing. Desai doesn’t miss a twist or trick in this witty and wise romp of a satire.
by Keith Scribner
When Sue Phone, the deaf orphaned daughter of a Vietnamese woman and African American soldier, appears in the dream of a deaf man, his hearing is suddenly restored. Soon pilgrims are pouring into economically depressed Hudson City, New York, and John Quinn, who works for the Roman Catholic diocese, must find space for them to stay. As reports of other miraculous cures increase, Quinn’s life comes crashing down around him, and Scribner weighs questions of faith, trust, and possibility with exceptional skill and sensitivity.
The Principles Behind Flotation
by Alexandra Teague
The daughter of a librarian and an actor turned journalist, A. Z. is wise beyond the four walls of her tiny Arkansas high school. Determined to gain admission to the prestigious Sea Camp on her way to becoming an oceanographer, she designs an experiment to test the salinization of the inexplicable salty sea that appeared, it is believed, thanks to divine intervention, in the middle of her landlocked state. While her efforts to explore its depths are thwarted by Fundamentalist Christians trying to protect their modern miracle, A. Z. is also stymied by the inescapable trials of being a teenage girl.
by Emma Donoghue
In 1859, Lib Wright, an English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale, is tasked with watching over Anna O’Donnell, an 11-year-old girl in a small Irish village who hasn’t ingested any nourishment in four months. Lib is certain that this “extraordinary wonder” is actually a lucrative scam, but Anna is a delightful, curious child who awakens Lib’s protective nature, increasingly so as Anna’s well-being deteriorates. Donoghue excels at evoking the social, religious, and ethical aspects of this confounding situation.
The Wonder of All Things
by Jason Mott
When Ava, 13, and her best friend, Wash, attend an air show, a plane crashes into the crowd. Wash is grievously injured until Ava places her hands on him, and his wounds close up. Word of the miracle quickly spreads, and the small town is soon inundated with hordes of people hoping for a similar cure. But Ava is unwell, and her father, the town sheriff, is overwhelmed. Mott sustains the mystery of Ava’s gift while evoking a sense of reverence for the natural world and “the wonder of all things.”
Donna Seaman is Adult Books Editor for Booklist, a recipient of the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award, a member of the Content Leadership Team for the American Writers Museum, and a frequent presenter at literary events and programs. Seaman’s new book is Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists.