Study Guide

Miracle McCloy in Dancing on the Edge

By Han Nolan

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Miracle McCloy

Miracle is a girl living under a ton of pressure. For one thing, she was born under impossible circumstances and really shouldn't even be alive right now—her mother died while she was pregnant—and for another, she unknowingly becomes a symbol for her father (a.k.a. Dane), Gigi, and Aunt Casey of the tragedy that is Dane and Sissy's relationship.

Making things even trickier for our main girl is that fact that no one's told her the truth about her parents; instead, they've been lying to her throughout her life. In theory this has been to protect Miracle, but it doesn't really change the fact that she's grown up in a web of lies. Add in the fact that Gigi—Miracle's grandma with a passion for all things occult—is running the show, and it's safe to say that Miracle has a fair amount stacked against her. But that just makes her ultimate win all the more miraculous.

A "Most Disturbing" Worldview

Because she's our narrator, Miracle gives us a front-row seat for all her reflections on situations, observations about life, and the bizarre way her brain works. This can be simultaneously fascinating and super frustrating for us—as a classic unreliable narrator, Miracle gives us the uneasy feeling that there's always more to her story than what she's telling us. It isn't that she's deliberately withholding details from us or being dishonest—it's just that she has an unusual way of processing situations. So while we don't really blame her, per say, we also don't fully trust her.

But it isn't just us as readers who don't quite follow as Miracle leads. There are tons of subtle clues throughout the story that Miracle's worldview is her downfall in relating to people. Check out the part where her teacher reads her book report on Robin Hood to the class.

Even when we all had to read the same book, I never understood it the way the rest of the class did […] The teachers often called my responses to the book discussions "most disturbing." (6.18)

Not even Miracle's teachers are fully picking up what she's putting down. She also tells us that she hates drawing because students told her she "drew like a little kid" (21.19) and that her art teacher wanted Gigi to meet with the school psychologist about her work. We're not sure what, exactly, her art looks like, but clearly it raises a few eyebrows.

All of this adds up to one question: Why is Miracle so weird? We can't say for certain, but we have a couple of good theories (if we do say so ourselves). First, Gigi isn't exactly a stable candidate for parenthood—if you grew up with a lady who thought that she could talk to dead people and that color purple had special powers, you might be a little funny in the head, too. Plus, her mom is dead and her dad seems pretty depressed (prior to his disappearance, that is), so she's never really had an easy time on the home front.

We also can't forget that Miracle was born extremely premature and has the cognitive odds stacked against her. Since premature babies are at high risk for learning disabilities, psychological problems, and behavioral issues—and Miracle was born exceptionally early in Sissy's pregnancy—it seems fair to assume that some of her problems may have a biological source, too.

A Strong Need for People

With a past as rocky as Miracle's, it's understandable that she has a tendency to be a little on the clingy side—often to an unhealthy level. After Dane disappears, she refuses to take off his bathrobe, even wearing it to school until she "had spilled all kinds of food on it […] and it smelled like incense" (6.37). Um, gross. Miracle's a great kid and all, but we can't imagine anyone being too stoked about having to sit next to her in class.

Similarly, even though Gigi's magical practices are questionable at best, Miracle remains faithful to them even as Juleen Presque assaults her with evidence that Gigi is a fake. Instead of seeing this as fierce loyalty to Gigi, though, it seems more like fear of questioning what she's been told is true. Miracle stands on shaky ground as it is, so it makes sense that she'd be afraid to question Gigi's credibility—Gigi's practically single-handedly constructed Miracle's worldview.

More than an unquestioning allegiance to her grandmother, though, Miracle develops a strong dependency on Granddaddy Opal, the one source of consistent love she has. Though he's hesitant at first, before long, he takes a real interest in her, even risking Gigi's wrath to take Miracle to dance lessons. Needless to say, she experiences serious grief when she's taken away from him after the tornado.

For Miracle, any attachment to a person is an extremely powerful force, whether it's positive like Granddaddy Opal or negative like Gigi. It's also something, though, that can be taken away at a moment's notice if she develops too strong a need for it. She even believes that she's responsible for Granddaddy Opal's heart attack:

Needing people too much just drove them away. Loving someone did something to their hearts. My need for Granddaddy Opal was too much and it gave him a heart attack. (18.9)

Okay, so, science says that Miracle's love for Granddaddy Opal doesn't cause his heart attack—burgers are a much more likely culprit, as are genes—but what matters more than Miracle's grasp on reality here is that she believes that her love can basically kill. Which is a really terrible thing to believe about herself. From where Miracle's sitting, though, pretty much everyone she's loved has suffered: Her mom is dead, Dane has completely disappeared, and Grandaddy Opal's health and house are majorly compromised.

We, of course, see that none of this has anything to do with Miracle—she's just a kid, after all. But we also see why she clings to people who show her love, since she's been given ample proof that they might just bounce one day. It's really no wonder Miracle's so freaking afraid of loving and losing. It's this fear of losing people that causes her to believe that love simply does not exist… or if it does, it's definitely not worth the pain it causes others.

This might sound pretty depressing, but don't worry, Miracle eventually realizes that love not only exists, but that it's okay to need other people. She realizes this about her aunt Casey as she's driving toward Tennessee with Gigi:

I needed someone to talk to who would understand and listen, really listen. I needed Dr. DeAngelis and Aunt Casey. I wanted to tell them everything. (29.10)

Miracle's need for Casey and her psychologist isn't unhealthy or rooted in fear—in fact, it's as much about self-love as anything else. Miracle wants to mend, she wants to tend to her wellbeing, and she realizes there are people she can trust to help her to do just this. Miracle realizes that theirs is a world of facts and reality, as opposed to Gigi's fantasy world, and that, daunting though healing may be, by addressing her troubles head-on (instead of with Gigi's magic), she just might come out on the other side better than ever.

A Move Toward Independence

For her entire life, Miracle has been taught to define herself by other people rather than have a unique identity of her own. The majority of her problems are rooted in Gigi's mantra, repeated to her since she was a baby: "You're a miracle, born from the body of a dead woman" (28.57). The circumstances of Miracle's birth invade every aspect of her identity, including her own name. Talk about pressure, right? Probably the worst part of all this is that Gigi's story is built on a lie.

Though Miracle's an odd cookie, she's also a tough one, so while she has to go through unspeakable loss and pain when she sets herself on fire, she also unwittingly opens the door to discovering who she really is. Though she burns herself in hopes of proving Gigi's powers true, Miracle ends up beginning the process of letting go of life as she's known it in order to build anew. The fire, then, is as much about self-destruction as it is about rebirth.

Being at The Cedars away from her dysfunctional family helps Miracle clear her head, learn more about herself, and most importantly, get acquainted with the real world. While the loss of her mother and Dane has crippled her until now, she finds the strength to move past it:

All those years I needed Dane, I needed him desperately to make me feel safe and real […] But what I realized, staring at my scars, was that I was real right there, right then. (29.7)

After a lifetime of needing to be someone else's miracle, as the book ends, Miracle is ready to be her own.

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