Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Quotes

  • Abandonment

    Miss Emmaline Wilson had pushed me to the floor, and when the tornado struck, she was on top of me with her arms wrapped around me, holding on tight. I didn't think I'd ever want her to let go. It was a new experience being held like that, the way I figured Mama would have held me if she had lived. (11.1)

    Emmaline's character reveals a dismal reality about Miracle's life: She's never had a single nurturing woman in her life. Ever. The fact that she actually enjoys being held even though a vicious storm is destroying her home reveals just how desperate for love and attention she is.

    On the way back, I imagined what it would be like to live with Miss Emmaline all the time. I pictured her living in a broom-swept house, with everything in its proper place and all her furniture stuffed fat with feathers. I pictured her singing while she cooked, the rich-smelling sauces and gravies bubbling and dancing merrily in their pots. (12.53)

    Miracle may be fantasizing about what it would be like to live with Miss Emmaline, but ultimately, her fantasies reveal a lot about what's lacking in her real-life situation. Her simple desire for a clean, well-organized house, for instance, shows us that Gigi and Aunt Casey haven't exactly been the best at providing a sense of order for her.

    Aunt Casey was too busy. She worked all day at her beauty salon and went to college three nights a week. When she was home she was either arguing with Uncle Toole or in my room sewing on her wigs. I couldn't bother her. (13.22)

    We here at Shmoop love college classes and looking fabulous, but we also don't advocate having messed-up priorities the way Aunt Casey clearly does. Living with her actually makes Miracle feel even more alone than before. Seriously, a kid needs to be cool with bothering the adults in her life.

    I stopped dancing at night, when it got dark. If no one else was home, I turned on all the lights and sat on the kitchen counter drinking sweet tea and counting to ten thousands. As long as someone came home before I reached ten thousand I knew I was safe. (14.26)

    Miracle's little number game might seem silly, but it really shows just how insecure she feels at Aunt Casey's house. You might argue that on top of her living situation with Casey and Toole, Miracle's most likely never felt safe before in her whole life. Their unstable marriage and Casey placing her degree and business above Miracle's needs only make this particular environment worse.

    I made my own meals out of what we had in the house: spaghetti with salad dressing, Frosted Mini-Wheats in beer, mayonnaise sandwiches, and sometimes wild cherry tomatoes picked from a one-time garden in the back of the house. (14.27)

    Um, gross—Casey, feed your kid, please. The fact that she's putting beer on her cereal is enough to make you guilty of child neglect. Not only that, but it probably tastes beyond awful.

    The toast had mold on it. I could taste it. I drank down the rest of the tea and by the time I had finished it, the tea inside me had gone cold and I was still shivering. (16.24)

    As if the beer on cereal wasn't bad enough, Aunt Casey now doesn't seem to notice that the bread in her own house is moldy. How distracted does a person have to be to actually eat moldy bread and not recognize it? Fortunately, Miracle's smart enough to avoid the toxic toast.

    I wasn't used to being touched, but I liked it. Every time somebody touched me I imagined them placing a new piece of skin on me, as if they were giving me back a lost piece of myself. (20.12)

    If abandonment is a way of life for Miracle in the first part of the book, The Cedars is where she gets it all back. She's surrounded by people who care about meeting her needs, including her need for affection. Finally.

    "Miracle, I think you've gotten a bum deal. I think things have been pretty rotten for you at times. It makes me angry. Miracle, I'm very angry."

    I looked at him, right in the eyes, and there was a facing looking back at me—a tiny, angry face staring out at me from the center of his eyes. (20.36-37)

    If you think about it, Dr. DeAngelis has to be kind of a big deal for Miracle, especially in this scene. Unless you count Granddaddy Opal's reaction to her bruises from dance class, he's the only person who has acknowledged that her situation is less than ideal—and has been upset about it.

    "Miracle, if you don't communicate your wishes to me, then I get to choose what I wish. You are giving me the power to choose. You're giving me your power, a power you have a right to own yourself. You understand?" (21.37)

    Miracle's abandonment hasn't just been about putting beer on Wheaties and not feeling safe at night. The authority figures in her life have all taught her from an early age that she has no rights and is entitled to no personal preferences. She's been drained of any and all power, presuming she had any to begin with. Dr. DeAngelis's revelation of this fact has to be a major eye-opener for her.

    "I just didn't want the baby to grow up without a mother, without the love we had had. And then what happened?" Aunt Casey looked at me over the tissues she had pinched to her nose. "That baby grew up without her mother, without love." (26.62)

    It's interesting how a lot of this family's solutions seem to become problems. In this case, Casey's lecture to Sissy about the need to take responsibility for her child actually does more harm than good, even though Casey had pretty good intentions at the time.

  • Family

    In their last argument, Dane blamed Gigi for messing up his life, which he did every time they fought. Then he said that Opal should have been the one raising me. He said if I were with Opal, I would have turned out normal, and that Gigi wasn't fit to raise a child and never had been. (3.21)

    Dane's accusation that Gigi was a bad mother not only reveals how bad things really were for him growing up, but doesn't exactly give Miracle the healthiest view of Gigi as her guardian. Maybe this is what Dr. DeAngelis means when he says that her family told her the truth about Sissy's "accident" through their actions—if things really were miraculous and hunky-dory, Dane and Gigi wouldn't be fighting about Miracle.

    All I knew was that I didn't want to be there. Granddaddy Opal's name always came up in Gigi and Dane's fights, and so did mine, and they never sounded good together, my name and his—linked together when we didn't even know each other. Their angry words had always scared me, and I had the feeling now that Gigi planned to leave me there alone with him and go away. (3.33)

    Granddaddy Opal and Gigi seem completely tone-deaf to the fact that Miracle isn't stupid and can hear every word they're saying, and as a result, they're making her feel unsafe and insecure in their house.

    He grinned, and I noticed he had Dane's mouth—small, thin lips that hinted at shyness. He had his eyes, too—the shape and color were exactly the same—only Granddaddy Opal's eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled and Dane's eyes looked flat, blank. I couldn't remember Dane ever really smiling. (4.28)

    Getting to know Granddaddy Opal better reveals to Miracle just how unhappy Dane really was. Her father may have looked like his father, but Opal's joy and enthusiasm for working with his hands and riding his bike makes her see the absence of those feelings in her dad's life.

    Granddaddy Opal said he would get me a bicycle and then I could join him on his route. It wouldn't be a new bicycle, though. He said it would be an old beat-up one picked up at a yard sale. He was good at fixing bicycles. "You fix it up, paint it, and then it's yours," he said. "You take care of it, grease it up good every now and then, give it a name, and you ride it everywhere. You and that bicycle become best friends. It's a real special relationship." (6.7)

    Granddaddy Opal's object lesson with the bicycle is one of the few moments in Miracle's childhood where she's treated like an adult and given responsibility. Having her own bike to take care of makes her feel important and helps her forge a connection with Granddaddy Opal, something she seriously lacks in her relationships with other family members.

    I could feel contentment riding on that breeze, flowing from one to the other of us. It was the first time we had all sat together in the same place. It was the first time Gigi and Granddaddy Opal were quiet, but this didn't last; the winds of change kept shifting. (7.9)

    It's interesting how once things settle down a little at Granddaddy Opal's, Miracle catches glimpses of what a normal life could look like for her. When she and her grandparents are quiet and together, she actually feels something approaching happiness. Unfortunately, though, it never lasts.

    "I could tell Dane loved his Daddy," [Aunt Casey] said […] "Said he got his artistic talents from him, not from Gigi, like Gigi's always implying." (8.12-13)

    Is it just us, or do Gigi and Granddaddy Opal have a kind of sick rivalry over their son? Gigi's obsessed with him being a writing prodigy, while Granddaddy Opal is the one who likely taught him what he knows about creativity and art. Our guess is that Opal really was the source of Dane's gifts—and Gigi knows it.

    Gigi jumped back in, accusing Aunt Casey of knowing about the lessons and yelling at Granddaddy Opal about their arrangement, and Miss Emmaline had a few loud words to say to Uncle Toole so that everyone was talking at once and no one was hearing anything. (10.61)

    Everyone talking and no one listening—that pretty much sums up life with the McCloys, doesn't it? No wonder everyone has so many problems communicating.

    "I know it's… weird… you know, talking to a stranger and all. I mean, no one in the family's ever done that—talked about problems with a stranger, I don't think. We don't even talk to each other… really… so talking with a stranger… I know, it's weird." (19.2)

    Aunt Casey's decision to pursue a degree in psychology is what ultimately leads her out of the demented fantasy world of her sister's family and makes her want to help Miracle. Realizing that the family doesn't even talk to each other is a big step toward accomplishing this.

    "But Miracle—" Aunt Casey glanced at my shoulders—"this family's got too many secrets. We need help sorting it all out, the secrets, and…and problems." (19.3)

    What was that we said earlier about secrets wrecking a family? Aunt Casey's realization that the family needs to communicate openly about the lies they've been telling each other demonstrates her desire to move them all past the secret world they've created and build a better one for Miracle.

    "It was pure torture for Sissy. She and—and the father, well, they didn't get along at all. They were two selfish egos living in the same house. Both of them were spoiled babies. Both of them needed someone to take care of them. Gigi did. She smothered them with care." (26.58)

    Ouch. Miracle may want to imagine her parents being young and in love and happy, but that obviously was not the case. With both of them forced into a marriage neither of them wanted any part of, it's no wonder contempt and anger grew so rapidly in this family.

  • Lies and Deceit

    "Hey," he said. "There ain't no dance classes."

    "Huh?" My mouth dropped open.

    "You understand? As far as Gigi knows, there ain't no dance classes." (4.75-77)

    Granddaddy Opal is obviously trying to be tongue-in-cheek here, but for a girl who struggles with knowing whether she's real or not, it's not exactly the greatest choice of words. As a result, Miracle goes on to fear the imaginary eraser that chases after her on her way home from dance.

    "I guess we'll just go on pretending I don't even know you," he said, bending down to help me pick up his tools, his voice calming down again. "Even though you're living under my roof all the day long. We'll just pretend and say nothing to her. Long as we ain't saying nothing, we ain't bringing it to her mind, and she don't have to do nothing about it." (6.30)

    Granddaddy Opal and Miracle have a pretty cool relationship, but it's kind of chilling to think that Gigi is so absent and oblivious that she doesn't even know it. Like the lie about the dance classes, the fact that Miracle's most significant family relationship is also a lie to Gigi puts a lot of cracks in the otherwise solid foundation that Opal's trying to build for her.

    "They have to believe I'm different," [Gigi] said. "That I don't eat or sleep or go to the bathroom like normal people. They don't want to see me walking around town in a pair of jeans licking on an ice cream cone. Someone like that wouldn't be able to contact the spirit world. Understand? They have to believe it's possible. They have to believe or it won't work." (8.1)

    We think we can all agree that Gigi's worldview here is ridiculous—everyone sleeps, goes to the bathroom, eats ice cream, and wears pants—but in the delusional world of Gigi Land, this makes perfect sense. She's so obsessed with projecting a specific image that nobody—not even her family, and perhaps not even herself—knows who she really is.

    I wondered about her and that Mr. Eugene Wadell. She had been going out with him a lot. She met him at one of her Other Realms conferences and at first she said she didn't like him because he kept following her around and staring at her. Then it turned out both of them had the same spirit guide, Rasmus […].

    Aunt Casey told me it wasn't like Gigi to fall for such a line and that he must have some good qualities we didn't know about. (10.16-17)

    Eugene Wadell seems to be quite the charmer. We might not think "We have the same spirit guide" is a super thrilling pickup line, but for people involved with the occult, it's probably the ticket to a first date. Regardless, it seems possible that Eugene's telling Gigi what she wants to hear and manipulating her into having a relationship with him.

    By the middle of the year, word of my abilities as a love magician reached the high school and I began to get their business as well. Everyone knew me, knew my name. I was Miracle, the love magician. It was wonderful to hear people call my name without having eggs and rocks hidden behind their backs. It was fun saying things that I knew no one understood […] It was fun when the girls all did what I said. (16.2)

    While there are a lot of disturbing things about Miracle's love magician charade, probably the most disquieting factor is that she's unknowingly become Gigi. She creates a persona for herself, thrives on the attention, and loves manipulating people for her own entertainment. The fact that she's created a very elaborate lie doesn't seem to matter, just like it doesn't matter to Gigi.

    Juleen nodded. "People see what they want to see […] It's all illusions, magic tricks. People see what they want to see and don't see what they don't want to see. The whole school knows now. They know what you really are. They know you're a fake." (16.79)

    They don't call Juleen "The Brain" for nothing. Gigi's (and Miracle's) magic acts may be lies in themselves, but they don't work unless their clients believe them, and that mostly comes from them lying to themselves by "seeing what they want to see."

    "That's right, and I can cure her in two days," Gigi said, stepping around to the back of my chair and bumping the orderly out of the way so she could hold the chair herself. "She doesn't need some prying, nosy doctor getting into our business. All those silly questions he asked me. It's not his business, and I told him so." (19.15)

    Why are we getting the feeling that Gigi wanting Miracle out of the hospital has more to do with her fear that Miracle will find out the truth about the family's secrets than her wellbeing? Gigi's somebody who doesn't deal very well with the truth on her own, and doesn't want others to hear it as well.

    Aunt Casey waved her hand. "Oh, we never told Miracle. We didn't tell her anything. Did we, Miracle? Tell him. You never knew a thing. It was just a suspicion anyway. We could never know for sure. We made a pact, we'd never tell. Gigi said for us to make her death a good thing and it was, we have Miracle." (24.105)

    For her next trick, Casey Dawsey will tell Dr. DeAngelis about the lie she and Gigi told Miracle, while lying in the process. Having Miracle hasn't always been a "good thing" for Casey—in fact, it's been torture.

    I wouldn't react to made-up stories. They were acting, putting on a show, just like in the TV room. I didn't know this woman they were talking about […] I wouldn't look at lies. (25.1-3)

    By this point, Miracle has to be super confused. She's been told the same story about her mom's death thousands of times, and now she's hearing for the first time that things might not have gone down the way she thought. As this statement reveals, she no longer is able to tell the difference between the truth and lies when her family speaks to her.

    "But then how did show know?" Aunt Casey turned her face to Dr. DeAngelis. "If we didn't tell her, how did she know?"

    "But you did, all of you did." Dr. DeAngelis flipped through his notes as if the words he was saying were in there somewhere. "She could read the truth in your actions, your features, your words, even the words that were left out. Her mind simply filled in the blanks." (27.17-18)

    It's ironic that in their quest to keep Sissy's suicide a secret from Miracle, Aunt Casey, Gigi, and the rest of the family nonetheless tell her the truth through their behavior and interactions with each other. Oops.

  • Identity

    "And there's no need hanging your head like there's something to be ashamed of, you hear? Being pulled live from your mama's twisted body like that was an omen, a portent of great things to come, isn't that right Dane?" (1.3)

    It's interesting that Gigi looks to Dane for reassurance that this statement's true. What's worse, though, is that Dane refuses to back her up—in fact, right after this comment, he asks to leave the room. This can't do much for creating a positive self-image for Miracle.

    It used to be, before Dane melted, that whenever I saw myself, it was a surprise, a shock […] But now when I looked in the mirror, there was a new surprise, a new expectation, and it scared me more than anything. Because now, I didn't expect to see my reflection at all. (2.94)

    One big problem Miracle has is that she feels so insecure about herself that she finds her identity in her father rather than trying to discover her own unique personality. Once Dane's gone, though, her main source of security goes away, too, leaving her without any idea of who she is without him.

    Maybe people existed only as long as you were seeing them, only as long as your mind could conjure them up. Maybe I existed only as long as someone was looking at me, or thinking about me. The rest of the time, where was I? Who was I? […] What happens to a person when no one's thinking about her anymore?

    This statement tells us a couple things about Miracle: It shows that she doesn't feel she has much worth within her family—after all, she believes that nobody is thinking about her—and it also shows that she doesn't really feel acknowledged by the world around her. Kids at school tease her, Aunt Casey belittles her, and the disappearance of her father only makes things worse.

    "Child, if your mama was dead when you were born, then you were never born. It's as plain as plain as that."

    He said it, and I knew it was so. (3.81-82)

    Before you get too hard on Granddaddy Opal for saying this, remember that he's been through a lot with Dane and Gigi and is probably experiencing some confusing emotions about having his granddaughter under his roof. Still, that doesn't excuse the statement. In saying that Miracle was never born, he unknowingly confirms her suspicions that she isn't real.

    I slipped the cloves under my pillow and went to sleep. I dreamed a shadow was chasing me. trying to run me down. When I awoke, I found my shirt soaked in sweat. I remembered the shadow and I knew the shadow was mine. It was me, unborn, the truth about who I really was, an unborn child who had accidentally slipped out of place—a mistake. That's what I knew: I wasn't real, and this thought scared me so much I wanted to jump out of bed and run away somewhere. (4.13)

    Gigi may mean to empower Miracle through the story of her birth, but this dream proves the harmful effects that it's had on her instead. She doesn't feel miraculous or special—she just feels like a mistake, something that never should have happened.

    While I was walking home, I knew a giant eraser followed behind me, erasing the dance class, rubbing it into dust and brushing it away, leaving behind an empty sidewalk, an empty past. Later, I started to run home every afternoon, afraid the eraser would catch up to me and erase me, too. (4.79)

    While we totally get that Miracle either takes secret dance lessons or no dance lessons at all, we also think that having to keep such an important part of her life a secret does a lot of damage to her already weak sense of self. She's clearly passionate about dance, and if her favorite activity doesn't exist, it only provides further evidence that she doesn't either.

    And when the dance was over, I had the bruises to remind me that for a little while, I felt real—I was a real, whole person. (6.52)

    The fact that Miracle feels she has to hurt herself to prove that she's real is one of the most painful aspects of her story. It's a clear indicator of the weak sense of identity she's developed throughout her life.

    "Ain't it a mystery?"

    "What?" I asked.

    "How we are. People, I mean. We always got to be wearing slogans and advertisements all over ourselves. Why, we're nothing more than walking billboards." (7.26-28)

    Granddaddy Opal's seatbelt painting business provides a unique commentary on human behavior that's probably more relevant today than when this book was published. Replace "slogans and advertisements" with "Facebook statuses and cover photos" and you've got today's use of technology as a means of self-expression.

    I tossed the book down and cried out. I didn't know if it was in shock, or pain, or joy, or fear. I just cried out. For the first time in my life, I had recognized my reflection. (21.41)

    It's interesting that in the hospital, Miracle turns away from self-destructive ways to assert her identity and instead finds it in healthy, more meaningful ways—like Juleen's book of Emily Dickinson's poems. The fact that she so strongly relates to the "I am nobody" poem is enough to show her that she not only exists, but also is capable of deep emotions.

    All those years I needed Dane, I needed him desperately to make me feel safe and real, but what I realized, staring again at my scars, was that I was real right there, right then. I didn't need those scars anymore. (29.7)

    Largely because of Gigi's lie-fest, Miracle's been taught to define herself by her pain and by other people. For the first time, she's able to recognize that she's real on her own, independent of her past and family.

  • Memory and the Past

    I didn't want to hear the story about Mama and my miracle birth. Ever since Dane melted I'd become afraid of that story, as if my being born from a dead woman had something to do with his melting. They were the same kind of thing to me. Thinking of either one made my stomach squeeze up tight. They made me feel all wrong inside, and there was something more to it—my birth and his melting—something I couldn't quite put my finger on. All I knew was that it had to do with me. (2.60)

    It's funny how no matter how hard Gigi tries to make Miracle's birth an inspiring, powerful story, Miracle can still read between the lines. Gigi may try to paint the past as something positive, but Miracle's too smart to be fooled into believing it.

    No one ever talked about Dane. Not Gigi. Not Granddaddy Opal. When I tried to bring him up, to remember something about him, Gigi would go into a trance and Granddaddy Opal would just say, "Hooey!" But whenever Gigi and Granddaddy Opal got together, they fought, and they fought about Dane. (6.1)

    So let's get this straight: Dane vanishes into thin air, which, as a way to lose a loved one, has even less closure than death. It's no wonder Miracle wants to keep talking about him and remembering him—but it's also not healthy that her family thwarts every attempt she makes to process what happened.

    One time, [Gigi] pulled off to the side of the road and turned to me and said, "That's Dane's house he's living in. Dane bought it. Your granddaddy doesn't have any more right to it than we do. Why, we have more of a right to it, really. I'm the only who raised Dane. If it weren't for me, he never would have had enough money to move that old man out of his apartment and buy him a house." (8.10)

    Dane might be both Opal and Gigi's child, but it's weird how they almost seem to be in a competition over who did the better job with him. The fact that their marriage basically ended over Gigi's bad parenting decisions doesn't help. Still, it's weird how their past as parents becomes a weapon in their ongoing conflict.

    Granddaddy Opal lifted his head and spoke, his voice angry and his hair dancing wildly on his head. "Gigi, you can't do this. She has a right to follow her own…"

    "No! No, it isn't her own and you know it. You did this to spite me. To get back at me." (10.52-53)

    This line contains a subtle clue that foreshadows the revelation of Sissy's dance talent. To Gigi, seeing Miracle dance is like seeing Sissy come back from the dead, hence she claims Miracle's gift "isn't her own."

    I don't remember much about my stay in the hospital, not those early days, at least. I don't remember how I got there. All I remember is sitting in a silver tub of water with my legs floating up at me like a couple of dead fish. (18.1)

    The fact that Miracle's blocking out the memory of the moment she set herself on fire adds a layer of tension to the rest of the book. Because we saw her light the candle bottles, we have a good idea of what happened and some of the motivation behind it. Still, Nolan is clever in giving us the sense that there's something more to the memory of the incident than we're aware of.

    "I thought today, Miracle, we'd play the game 'I Recall.' It's quite easy. What I want you to do is think back to a memory you have, any memory, tell us a little bit about it, and then your aunt will bring up a memory of her own, triggered by yours." (26.8)

    Dr. DeAngelis is one smart dude. He knows that unacknowledged, distorted memories are what's causing Miracle's issues to begin with, and uses the game as a way to mine her brain for details that could lead to her discovering the truth.

    Aunt Casey closed her eyes a second, then opened them and said, "I remember being in love with Toole Dawsey. We had this dream that I was going to be a beautician and get so popular and rich we'd move to Hollywood and I'd be the hairdresser to the stars. He wanted to be an actor, like Sylvester Stallone." She looked at Dr. DeAngelis. "We were real young then." (26.16)

    Hearing Aunt Casey talk about her past with Toole gives us a glimpse of a time when her ex-husband wasn't a creep. The picture she paints might be brief, but it's extremely sad—we get the sense that Toole's somebody who once had grander ambitions, but lost sight of them along the way.

    Sissy, my mother, was a dancer. An old memory flashed through my mind. I saw Gigi's stricken face the day of the tornado when I had danced for her. I realized she didn't want me to dance because she was afraid I would end up like Sissy, but she couldn't stop me; I did end up like her. (28.3)

    Miracle's memory of what happened in Opal's basement takes on new significance when she learns the truth about her mother. While we can't say Gigi is rational in her decision to keep Miracle from dancing, knowing the past can at least help us understand the traumatic events that cause her to feel that way.

    Then came that moment, the moment I had chosen to forget until then, riding in the van with Gigi as she held her world back out to me. It was the moment after the robe had caught fire and the flames seared my skin. I felt an instant of the cruelest pain, and in that instant, I saw the truth: Gigi was a phony, and Dane didn't melt. (28.53)

    It's interesting that the memory from her burning incident that Miracle blocks out is the realization that Gigi really is a fake. This gives us an idea of how traumatic this fact is for her. Considering that she's basically been brainwashed her whole life to believe that Gigi has magical powers, though, it makes sense that knowing the opposite would kind of throw her world off-balance. Plus, Gigi's the closest thing she's ever had to a mom.

    "This is how it was, wasn't it? He didn't want to go. He didn't want to just write all day. He wanted to be with Granddaddy Opal and ride bikes and build things, but you just took him." (29.27)

    The book wraps up the whole Gigi/Granddaddy Opal feud by confirming what we've pretty much suspected about their past all along: The writing thing wasn't Dane's idea. In fact, neither he nor Granddaddy Opal were down with it. Maybe this whole thing could have been avoided if Gigi had just asked Dane what he wanted to do with his life—or better yet, just let him be a kid.

  • Religion

    I thought about all the questions I was going to ask Mama, the same questions I had asked her every night since I could remember. "Where are you, Mama?" I always began, lying in my bed and staring up into the darkness, feeling her silence. "Where is the spirit world? Is it just like heaven?" (1.14)

    Death is confusing enough for a kid to understand without introducing Gigi's thoughts about the spirit world into the mix. It's obvious that Miracle has a lot of questions about her mother, mostly because of the half-truths she can sense from her family about Sissy's death. The disturbing part, though, is that her questions about the spirit world only scratch the surface of the true story.

    Gigi always said four was a sacred and holy number. She said all numbers are important because they contain all things in the natural and spiritual world, but I didn't like the number four because four and a half months after Mama married Dane, she got run over by an ambulance speeding to the scene of an accident. (1.8)

    Here's a thought for you: Gigi kind of worships colors and numbers. Each one has special significances and certain rules for interacting with them. Sissy's death, however, shows that their association in the spirit world doesn't necessarily match up with how they can play out in the real world. Apparently, Gigi herself isn't even aware of these contradictions.

    Gigi didn't like me asking a lot of questions. She said my questions upset the karmic balance, and I knew this was so, because even though I didn't know what karmic balance meant, I could tell how upset my questions made her. (1.23)

    Gigi's superstitious religious views are damaging to Miracle in a lot of ways, but one of the worst is that they take away Miracle's ability to ask questions. Out of fear that people will discover she's a fake, questions are something Gigi thinks are best avoided.

    Gigi and I stayed on our knees swaying for a long time. I don't know when Aunt Casey and Uncle Toole left because I had to concentrate on being just like Gigi. I kept waiting for Dane to reappear because it seemed to me that's why we stayed down there on the floor with our arms crossed over our chests moaning to the spirits. (2.27)

    Whoa—this is a super creepy image, no? It's almost like Gigi is trying to conjure Dane up from the pile of clothes on the floor, or from wherever it is that people go when they melt. Of course, the whole thing about Dane melting is bogus to begin with, so our best guess is that Gigi's using this little ritual as a chance to perform for Aunt Casey and Uncle Toole.

    "If you want to know something, you don't go look it up in a book. You put your question out there, out into the universe, and then you wait, and sure enough the information comes to you." (4.16)

    Not only does Gigi discourage Miracle from asking questions, she is now also telling her that books are a bad source of information. She takes away both Miracle's power to ask questions and to seek information. Fittingly, then, it's ultimately a book—the Emily Dickinson poetry collection—that sets Miracle's mind free. Ha. How do you like them apples, Gigi?

    I went to church a couple of times, back when Gigi listened to what other people told her, and they told her I needed religion. We stopped going, though, because Gigi said there was more to it than the preacher was letting on. She said it was like the way the government doesn't admit that there are aliens from other planets roaming the earth. "That preacher's hiding too much up his puffy sleeves is what I think," she said. "He's got cards he ain't showing." (4.66)

    More than likely, Gigi heard something at the church service that made her feel a little uncomfortable. Perhaps the preacher spoke out against the occult or made a statement that contradicted something she wanted Miracle to believe. Thus, this scene isn't as much about what the preacher is or isn't sharing with people, as it is Gigi's fear that conventional religion will disrupt Miracle's image of her—and her own fantasy world.

    Then, in a loud quivering voice she said, "The winds of change are blowing." Her arms swayed above her. "The stars are realigning. You must be ready. Great things are about to happen to us all!" (7.3)

    Why does this description make us think Gigi would make a fantastic televangelist? Perhaps now that the whole situation with Miracle is resolved, she can found her very own television network for all things occult. Then again, we kind of hope she's gone ahead and given up her alleged magic altogether.

    I imagined myself melting into the floor and then deeper, into the earth, deeper still, below the earth, beyond the earth. Then where? Where did Dane go then? There's where I always got stuck. I could never imagine what lay beyond the earth. All I knew was Gigi's world of spirits and spirit guides, and they were all people who had died and were caught in the ether world. But Dane wasn't dead, so he wasn't with the spirits. What else lay beyond the earth? (9.2)

    Gigi's yarn about Dane melting is just as dangerous as her tales about Sissy being in the spirit world, if not more. Because Dane is technically not dead (that we know of), he doesn't apply to the spirit world theory, which only adds more confusion to Miracle's comprehension of all this. Really, Gigi's weird theories break down pretty easily in the absence of any coherent rules or evidence.

    Aunt Casey, straining under the weight of his arms flung around her, pointed toward the sky. "Can't you see we got bigger problems than you to worry about right now?" she said. "Now, pull yourself together and help Opal out. I swear, of all the times to have some kind of conversion experience." (11.6)

    The idea of Uncle Toole having a conversion experience is totally laughable. We want to believe that staring death in the face in the form of the tornado would change his ways, but it's almost like we intuitively know that Toole's not a guy capable of serious self-reflection. Sure enough, he returns to his lackadaisical ways—and his girlfriend—once things get back to normal.

    Mr. Eugene Wadell came over with our drinks and handed them to us. "I think if we could get together in a circle and focus on Mr. McCloy's heart and circulatory system—I mean, if we could just visualize healing—"

    "Prayer, you mean," said Miss Emmaline.

    "Uh—" Mr. Wadell opened his can of Sprite and took a sip. (12.20-23)

    There's nothing like a family crisis to bring a clash in religious beliefs to the forefront. In this case, it's pretty clear that Emmaline thinks all the Other Realms stuff is a bunch of hooey.

  • Transformation

    Her ritual of applying makeup could take all morning. She used it to hide things, her age, her missing lashes, her unshapely brows and think lips, whereas Aunt Casey wore makeup to enhance what was already there. This, I decided, was the main difference between the two of them, and back then I preferred Gigi's more flashy and exotic look. (4.6)

    The key words in that last sentence are "back then." Obviously, Miracle's learned that just because someone wears flashy, exotic makeup doesn't mean they have it all together. Still, the ways that Gigi and Casey use makeup to transform their physical appearances reveal a lot about their characters.

    There were little things at first. Gigi started getting up earlier to spend some time with me before she went off to the shop. Granddaddy Opal grew his tomatoes and cucumbers and shared them with Gigi without grumbling about her macrobiotic foods, and the rest of them started talking in front of me as if they liked each other. I had visions of them someday getting remarried and all of us living happy lives together, just the way it was that summer, happy and slow and sweet. (7.6)

    Granddaddy Opal and Gigi might basically hate each other, but gradually, they begin to become a family for Miracle. It's unclear exactly what transforms their household, but we think it probably has something to do with the positive relationship that unfolds between Granddaddy Opal and Miracle.

    I still missed Dane and I still looked for him, but for the first time in my life I felt a gentleness, a softness in the unfolding of each day. The dark fears that had hovered over me had faded to gray; the shadow kept its distance. (7.7)

    In Part 1, it really seems like Miracle's beginning to experience a normal life and sense of contentment. The sad thing is that the tornado and Opal's heart attack halt this transformation. While we eventually get to see Miracle come into her own, we feel her frustration about the obstacles that come her way and disrupt her progress.

    I wanted them to see that I had changed […] I didn't dance wild anymore. I even bought a pretty pair of purple leg warmers and had started to grow my hair so I could wear ribbons like the other girls in the class. I felt proud and important, but the kids hadn't changed. They liked the seat belt, but not the seat belt painter's daughter. (7.24).

    Not only do Granddaddy Opal and Gigi start making an effort to get along, but Miracle changes, too. Nurtured by Granddaddy Opal's love and life lessons, she begins to leave behind many of the peculiarities that separated her from other students. Still, she's frustrated by her classmates' inability to see the change in her personality.

    Aunt Casey had decided to go for a degree in psychology instead of just taking random courses in it […] She had even begun to dress differently. Instead of spandex and tight sparkly shirts, she wore baggy jeans and extra large tee shirts and socks and flat wide sandals that had no back strap and kept flying off her feet. She had to learn a whole new way of walking. Her hair was combed down, too, less stiff, and she kept it dyed red and wore almost no makeup. (14.23)

    We have to say that abandoning the spandex and high heels was a good move for Aunt Casey. It's interesting how, as her appearance changes, we actually get to like her more. She might seem like a brain-dead Barbie doll at the beginning of the book, but she undergoes a major transformation as she begins to learn more about psychology.

    Everyone crowded around me in group, wanting to see, asking me if my legs hurt. Leah called me lumpy-legs, and I told her to hush her mouth. Everyone except the counselors clapped. (26.1)

    You go, girl—the Miracle of old never would have been able to stand up to The Cedars's resident bully and tell her off, but our girl's come a long way.

    "You know what I know about the dark? Miracle. There's always light after the dark. You have to go through that dark place to get to it, but it's there, waiting for you." (26.40)

    Dr. DeAngelis's wise statement about the therapeutic process Miracle is going through paints a picture of the journey Miracle undergoes to free herself from the hold of Gigi and her past. It's definitely a frustrating and scary experience to go through the dark, but she comes out changed on the other side.

    Aunt Casey grabbed my arms and pulled them down. "No, Miracle, it's not like that now. See? It's not like that. All that guilt—I see now. I know now. You're not my punishment, you're my opportunity. See? […] You're Sissy's child—her beautiful child. I have a chance to do it right." (26.26-28)

    Where Aunt Casey once saw Miracle as a constant reminder of how hard she was on Sissy, she now sees her as a chance to make her harsh words right by raising her niece and loving her. Miracle's incident with the fire may be painful, but it provides the experience Aunt Casey needs to have her view of Miracle transformed.

    I didn't know I had so many feelings. I didn't now there were so many words to describe them all. (28.5)

    The fact that Miracle finds emotions to be new and exciting demonstrates just how much Gigi has held her back from developing into a healthy teenager. Gigi's kept her in one mode thanks to her lies about the past and twisted explanations of how the world works. Freed from that environment, Miracle's now able to discover the powerful feelings she has about her experiences.

    I had never really noticed people before, and I wondered what it meant, to see them now, as if they were newly born upon this earth, and I, too, newly born, alive, truly alive. (30.1)

    Being able to tell Gigi off is ultimately the final piece in the puzzle of rebuilding Miracle's life. The fact that she describes herself as "newly born" proves just how drastic her situation was—and how important telling Gigi off is. Of course Miracle couldn't notice other people before; she was barely able to notice herself.

  • Art and Culture

    "Gigi says dancing is a waste of time."

    "Maybe she don't know how good you are, huh?"

    I hadn't thought of that, but I did that day, standing beneath the sun in my grandfather's yard.

    I thought how dancing could be my special talent, the one Gigi always said she would discover, my prodigy talent. (4.46-49)

    Gigi's whole thing with discovering people's special talents is pretty twisted, as the ordeal with Dane's writing career shows. Still, Miracle doesn't know that yet. To her, dancing is not only a passion, but a way to make Gigi proud of her and gain her attention.

    Just looking at all the girls lined up in their colorful tights and their pretty pink slippers—pink for femininity—made me want to jump from my seat and join them, even if I didn't know any of the steps yet. Susan clapped her hands and all the girls got quiet. She demonstrated a plié and a grande plié […] When she did the grand plié—a deep knee bend—her arm circled in front of her like a hair ribbon caught on a breeze. (4.69)

    Wow. Who wouldn't want to be a part of this dance class? The enthusiasm of Susan and her students is contagious—it's no wonder Miracle wants to get up and join them.

    Everything Susan did, I wanted to do […] The rest of the class sounded like a herd of elephants stampeding after her, but I knew I would be like her. I would be soft and light, and leap and spin just like her. (4.70)

    Miracle's attraction to dance is what separates her passion from Dane's gift as a writer—she's in love with the idea of dancing, while her father saw writing as something he was forced into. They might have equal potential, but not when it comes to happiness in their pursuits.

    I threw myself around in class, crashing to the floor, banging into the walls when the music was wild. I love those classes, that wild feeling. I could spin and fly all over the room and nothing mattered, nothing existed but the sheer swirling ecstasy of the dance and the music. (6.52)

    This description sounds more like the way someone might dance at a club or a wild party than an improv class, but it shows just how few outlets Miracle has for self-expression. Dance class is a place where she can be herself without worrying about judgmental comments from Gigi or being told to get off the furniture; it's her own secret, safe place.

    If being a prodigy came from God, how was I supposed to become one? I didn't have much time left. I would be thirteen soon, the age Dane had been when his first book came out. What would happen to me if I never became a great dancer, or I never developed any supernatural powers like Gigi? Then Dane would never come back, even if the house did belong to him. (8.13)

    It's kind of weird how Gigi's thing about prodigies gets all tied up with her supernatural stuff. Miracle seems to believe there will be some kind of punishment for her if she doesn't have a special ability like her dad. Specifically, she thinks there's a connection between her developing an artistic skill and Dane returning. No pressure or anything, though… not.

    When my thoughts got too disturbing—most disturbing—I would jump up from the floor and put on one of Dane's Bob Dylan tapes, and dance wild. I danced, shook, and rattled the thoughts clear out of me. I danced until I felt the ecstasy, until I felt the bruises. (9.3)

    Miracle's improvisational dancing isn't just about expressing herself, it's also a way of proving that she's a real person. The fact that she needs to experience pain to assure herself that she exists proves just how empty she is.

    I created special dances for Dane and Mama, beautiful dance stories about our new life, the way it was going to be. Every chance I got I was dancing, living the dream in my mind, living it so much it seemed more real to me than the world around me, more wonderful. (10.1)

    Miracle's self-expression with dance takes on a new purpose when she develops her theory that Dane went back in time to save Sissy. Part of her has to know on some level that this is a fantasy, but dancing helps to make it real.

    I felt so moved, I rose up off the bed, drifted past the candle bottles and the bookshelves to the open space, and I danced. And for the first time I understood what Susan had always told me. She said I needed to feel the music, feel the pulse inside me, speak it with my body. That night I did it. That night I remembered the lessons, each class, each combination, they were all there, all the classes that I had erased came back to me […] And I knew, when I stopped, when Miss Emmaline Wilson stopped, that we had done something special together. (10.47)

    Dancing with Emmaline's music gives Miracle the chance to take her secret passion for dance and transform it into something real and unique. Gigi might be there watching, but Miracle doesn't care—she gets lost in the music and lacing her dance steps together.

    I danced anyway. No one was home. I taught myself. Every day I danced, slow quiet dances, movement without music. I couldn't play any music because I had to listen in case Dane had forgiven me and wanted to speak to me again. (14.25)

    Dance means so much to Miracle that she'll do it with or without classes, and with or without music. It's true love when it comes to Miracle and dance.

    I was dancing to beautiful music. I remembered Miss Emmaline singing. Her beautiful voice singing such words, words I wanted for myself, and so I danced. That was real. I could feel it—inside, and I decided that night, reading poetry beneath a caged lightbulb, that real was when you could feel your whole body light up from within. (25.32)

    Ultimately, Miracle uses art to define what it means to be real. Where she once needed to hurt herself to prove she existed, she now knows she's real because of her reactions to music, dance, and poetry.

  • Versions of Reality

    I never liked hearing about how I came into this world anyway. It didn't seem natural, a live baby coming out of the body of a dead woman. Gigi said it was the greatest miracle ever to come down the pike. (1.1)

    Let's just take a minute here and look at what happened to Sissy for what it is: a tragic decision to end her life brought about by the pressures of being forced to give up her dream. For the selfish reason of managing her own guilt, though, Gigi creates an alternate reality where Sissy's death is an accident that led to Miracle's, well, miraculous birth. Still, pretending the events were different doesn't make her version real.

    I told Dane I loved it even though I had only read the last page. It was the first book I'd ever owned that didn't end with "And they lived happily ever after." (1.7)

    It's interesting that Miracle has never read Dane's book, but is taken by the fact that it doesn't have a fairytale ending. In being impressed by this, do you think Miracle hints that she's not impressed by the fairytale-esque story she's been told about her own birth?

    "But where does melting take you? What place?"

    "Oh, some other time, some other place," Gigi said, her right hand fiddling with the crystal she had hanging around her neck. "Wish I could tell you more, but that's the way melting works. It's a vague kind of thing, one of those mysteries of life scientists and spiritualists and other ists are always trying to figure out." (3.29-30)

    Can we be real here for just a minute and make it abundantly clear that people don't melt? Maybe we, as readers, are already aware of this, but Gigi's so unwilling to face the reality of Dane's disappearance that she has to craft an elaborate story to explain it.

    I remembered what Granddaddy Opal had said about Mama. If your mama was dead when you were born, then you was never born. I changed it, right in my head I changed it, so that Granddaddy Opal said to me, "Welcome to my house, young lady, glad to have you stay." (4.13)

    Gigi isn't the only one who has a habit of rewriting history—it's a skill she's actually passed on to Miracle as well. Here, Miracle takes her traumatic first meeting with Granddaddy Opal and changes the memory to make him softer and kinder upon her arrival.

    I went to a special place, a safe, new place. There were green fields and wildflowers there, and fairies and gnomes and distant castles poking through swirls of pink and white clouds. A blanket of butterflies flew overhead to greet me. Then they drifted down and settled about my shoulders and kept me warm and safe. No words, no dirt balls, no teacher, no child—could reach me there, except Dane. I talked to Dane in my special new place. (5.17)

    Miracle and her grandma have a lot in common. Just like Gigi, Miracle creates a fantasy world to enter whenever the world gets too overwhelming, particularly when she feels isolated and lonely at school—and in this world, Dane is present.

    What if Dane melted so he could go back in time? It's possible, isn't it? If he did, then he was probably going back to the time just before Mama got hit by the ambulance. He's probably making sure she doesn't go to town to see the doctor that day. He's keeping her at home […] and thinking about how it's going to be—Dane, and her, and me, the new baby, living in a cottage by the sea. (9.48)

    Miracle is so desperate to avoid facing the truth about Dane's disappearance that she goes from creating a fantasy world that he lives in to using Granddaddy Opal's black hole book as evidence that he's gone back in time. Her mind seems to be constantly at war between hiding her emotions in different versions of reality and facing the truth she knows to be real.

    I lowered my head and closed my eyes. I could see a picture—a scene in my mind's eye, a familiar scene. It was the same one that flashed in my mind every time Gigi told me the story of my birth. Yes, I always hated when she told me that story. Something was always wrong with it. (27.7)

    Miracle might have a lot of issues, but she's definitely not stupid—as Dr. DeAngelis points out, she's never entirely believed Gigi's story about how her mom died. The image of her mother walking out in front of an ambulance and somehow not seeing it just doesn't add up.

    "Miracle, you're fourteen. You know the difference between fact and fantasy. You know what's real and what isn't." (28.18)

    It might not seem like Miracle knows the difference between fantasy and reality, but she actually does. Gigi has just taught her the skills of denial extremely well, and part of Miracle's recovery is learning to recognize the truth and accept it rather than hide from it.

    I awoke now with a sudden flash of understanding, a knowing that part of me had stopped believing in her the day Juleen Presque had called Gigi a phony. (28.52)

    Remember the Emily Dickinson quote from the epigraph about how "the truth must dazzle gradually" (if not, swing by the "What's Up With the Epigraph?" section)? That's kind of what's going on here. Juleen does get through to Miracle that day when she brings her the books—Miracle's reaction of setting herself on fire is proof that the knowledge penetrated. Nonetheless, she can't entirely accept it all at once. Beliefs she's been taught to rely on her whole life can't simply disappear.

    I thought I wanted her to rescue me, take me with her to Tennessee, I thought that's what I needed to tell her, but then I realized that wasn't it at all. I wanted her to release me. I wanted her to say it was all right to stop believing. I wanted to break the unspoken pact we had kept between us for so many years. (28.62)

    Even after Dr. DeAngelis and Casey tell Miracle the truth about Gigi and her mother's death, Miracle's still not ready to totally accept it. In fact, the knowledge is so overwhelming that she actually wants to retreat back into the world of denial Gigi's created for her. It's only when Gigi kidnaps her and she gets her wish that Miracle realizes Gigi's world is no longer a place where she belongs.

  • Love

    Granddaddy Opal's hair looked shocked as if an electric current were running through his head. His hands were trembling and he brought them down on my handlebars, so close to mine I could feel their heat.

    "You ain't going to have any more of these bruises, you hear?" […]

    "Yes. Yes, we're through with that wild music anyway. We're doing something else now."

    "You durn sure or I don't know what!" he said. (6.61-64)

    Granddaddy Opal's stunned reaction to Miracle's bruises from dance class seems to really disturb her—largely because she's never seen an expression of concern and love before. His emotions are a cross between anger and sadness, as though he's realizing for the first time that Miracle is a child deprived of affection.

    I sat up and faced the wig heads. "I don't believe in love," I told them. "It's not real. It's not a live thing […] You can't touch it, can you? […] You can't hold it in your hand, can you? […] Love is make-believe." (15.3)

    Miracle's spiel to the wig heads about her inability to believe in love reveals that she doesn't really understand abstract concepts. Because the world she's grown up in has been extremely unstable and her needs haven't always been met, love isn't just something she doesn't understand, but something she's never really experienced.

    They slammed a lot of doors back and forth and Uncle Toole had to sleep in the living room on one of his busted-up sofas. Love wasn't real. If they just realized that, if they could just understand that very simple thing, they'd never fight again. (15.9)

    What's funny about Miracle's rationalization here is that if love isn't real, then why are Aunt Casey and Uncle Toole even together? Why did they even get married to begin with? They had to have been in love once, right? Maybe? No? Miracle is so distanced from the idea of love that she doesn't seem to grasp the concept. And frankly, when it comes to Casey and Toole, we don't really either.

    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. I was killing him. (18.9)

    We know that this isn't true, but remember that love isn't exactly something Miracle's had a lot of experience with, and she makes some odd associations in the process of figuring it out. Granddaddy Opal's heart attack has no relation to how much Miracle loves him, but she still blames herself.

    "Oh, you don't think anyone else has problems like yours. Well, that's what's so nice about group. You discover you're not alone. There are people out there who have the same feelings you do. You'll get to share your feelings. Maybe what you have to share will help somebody else. Maybe you'll hear things that will help you and those scars will start to melt away." (18.22)

    Let this sink in for a minute: The Cedars is the first stable environment Miracle finds herself in—ever. Sure, Granddaddy Opal's house came pretty close, but anywhere Gigi is living isn't a functional place. The fact that there are other people who have similar problems as her is a major revelation.

    I took my usual seat and Dr. DeAngelis stood up and said, "No, Miracle. I'd like you to take my seat today and I'll sit in yours." (21.15)

    Dr. DeAngelis is one of the first people Miracle encounters at the Cedars who teach her about love. He largely does this by identifying with her situation, and in this case, literally putting his authority aside to place himself in her shoes. Atticus Finch would definitely like this guy.

    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, to share what I was discovering with them, and to let them know I needed them. (29.10)

    Miracle essentially goes from believing that love isn't real to seeing it as something she desperately needs. While she doesn't use that specific word here, she seems to be acknowledging that Dr. DeAngelis, Casey, and to an extent Granddaddy Opal can offer her emotional support that Gigi isn't equipped with.

    "Oh, and Aunt Casey? Thanks for wanting me to know the truth—for wanting me." (30.37)

    While she may think of Aunt Casey as kind of mean and superficial for a long time, getting kidnapped by Gigi ultimately makes Miracle see exactly how much her aunt has grown to love and need her. Aunt Casey may have once seen Miracle as a reminder of guilt from the past, but she now knows that she wants to make a difference in her life.

    Dr. DeAngelis once said that we would be talking about love, what it means, how it feels. I told him I didn't believe in love. "You can't touch it or see it," I had said […] "I won't believe what I can't see."

    He said, "Then believe what you feel." (30.40-41)

    Feelings haven't exactly been a reliable source of information for Miracle—actually, they haven't even been something she can truly believe at all. Dr. DeAngelis demonstrates, though, that emotions can be trusted and believed. Feelings can provide proof of how the people around Miracle really feel about her.

    I thought maybe it was like dance, and music, and poetry. I knew how they made me feel, how the truth made me feel: real, and lit up from the inside, and like nothing in the world could ever really hurt me. I decided love might be like that, too. (30.42)

    Miracle may not understand love at first, but she does understand dance, music, and Emily Dickinson. Perhaps she needs to feel the emotions that come from art and learn to trust them before she can see that believing in love is very similar.