On an ordinary day, at an air show like that in any small town across the country, a plane crashes into a crowd of spectators. After the dust clears, a thirteen-year-old girl named Ava is found huddled beneath a pocket of rubble with her best friend, Wash. He is injured and bleeding, and when Ava places her hands over him, his wounds disappear. Ava has an unusual gift: she can heal others of their physical ailments. Until the air show tragedy, her gift was a secret. Now the whole world knows, and suddenly people from all over the globe begin flocking to her small town, looking for healing and eager to catch a glimpse of The Miracle Child. But Ava's unique ability comes at a great cost, and as she grows weaker with each healing, she soon finds herself having to decide just how much she's willing to give up in order to save the ones she loves most.
POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: Sensitive material within this plot for those who have lost a child. Suicide is also mentioned, though only momentarily.
In the town of Stone Temple, North Carolina, Ava, the teenage daughter of town sheriff, Macon, attends an air show one day where she witnesses a horrific plane crash that not only takes down a grain silo but also gravely injures her best friend, Wash. Instantly at his side, by just placing her hands on Wash and saving his life, Ava reveals a healing gift she's kept secret for years.
Once her secret power is revealed, of course it takes no time for members of the scientific community to start up pleas to study Ava. Specialist doctors show up in Stone Temple, loaded down with cameras and electrode equipment. What they don't realize is that each time Ava taps into her gift, it weakens her with each healing. With each "save", Ava battles through various illnesses, temporary blindness, drastic weight loss, persistent chills, at one point even falling into a coma. Still, it doesn't stop locals from visiting her, asking for help "just one more time". How many healings does she have in her before the damage is irreversible?
There's quite a bit of sadness weighing this story down. The plot centers around that transitional period in life between the magic of childhood and the painful realities of adulthood, the earliest moments when adulthood begins to chip away at that youthful, dreamy optimism with the stark realities of sickness, death, fractured relationships. But there's also that internal fight to hold onto some of the former magic.... what a struggle that can be!
Macon, as the father character, was a bit of a disappointment. For a father and sheriff, there seemed to be a lack of backbone in him. Often, when at a loss for what to do in a situation, he chooses to just go with the crowd, sometimes to the detriment of his daughter's well-being. Carmen, Ava's stepmother, seemed much more protective of her. The relationship between Ava and Walsh is what really drives the story along.
This was one of those ones where the plot had a ton of potential but fell flat on the follow through. I was really expecting a heavier presence of the fantasy / paranormal element to be worked in but it just never really reached the intensity I was hoping for. Good story in the moment, but much of it fades from memory pretty quick. I will say though, there are quite a few powerfully written passages... makes me curious to pick up some of Mott's other work!
"... I can't think of a single time when I didn't want to hear the sound of your voice... just talk to me, Wash. Sing something to me. I just want to hear your voice a little more...."
Beneath the roof of the old cabin, among the dust and the cold night wind that came through the broken window, carried on the legs of the moonlight, beneath the gentle crackling of the fire and the warmth that was filling the cabin more and more, beneath it all a boy held tightly to the girl he loved and a girl slept in the arms of the boy she loved and the rest of the world did not exist.
The paperback edition includes a reader's guide with discussion questions, author Q&A and an excerpt of Mott's debut novel, The Returned (which later inspired a tv show by the same name).