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Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Question of Miracles, written by Elana K. Arnold. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen & Son. 2015. $21.99 ages 10 and up

"To talk to my parents and the doctors in person. And to meet me." Iris thought about that - people coming all the way from Italy just to meet Boris. She wondered if they'd be disappointed when they realized that he was just a normal kid, and that he wasn't even popular or anything. She wondered what it would be like to be in the presence of people like that, people who decided about miracles."

In a story that is quite miraculous itself, we meet Iris and her family. They have just moved to Oregon from California. Iris' mother has a new job at the university, her father is a stay-at-home parent intent on making the 'homestead' a happy, productive place for his family. He loves thinking about and planning his garden, learns all that he can about sustainability and accepts the constant rain as a daily blessing. Iris, on the other hand, hates the dreary wetness of this new place. Its gloominess is in keeping with the her sadness since the death of her best friend, Sarah, three months earlier. She misses Sarah every day, and longs for her presence.

School and the bus ride there are worrisome, as well. She doesn't want to make new friends. Meeting Boris, who is messy and lacks social skills, offers some solace. They become friends despite their differences. In Boris, Iris finds hope. Although few people are aware of it, Boris is considered a miracle baby. He should never have survived his birth; yet, he did. His aunt believes it is a direct result of her prayers. People from the Vatican want to meet him because of the miracle of his birth, and what they believe to be divine intervention. It makes Iris think that other miracles are surely possible.

Iris feels Sarah's presence in the cupboard under the stairs in the new house. That is where Sarah's tennis racket languishes, a gift from her parents to their daughter's best friend and tennis partner. Iris just wants to talk to Sarah again. Who decides on miracles?

Elana Arnold has written a beautiful story. She allows her readers, through Iris' compelling character, a close look at grief, at hope and at eventual acceptance of the small miracles that we experience every day. It is a terribly sad time for Iris. Having a friend like Boris, who is always supportive and engaging, encourages her to see life without Sarah in a new, hopeful way. It is a long, slow journey to the light on the other side.

Authentic, emotional and full of insight, this would be a perfect book to add to a middle grader's summer reading list.

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