Little Fires Everywhereby Published 12 Sep 2017
|Little Fires Everywhere.pdf|
Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When the Richardsons' friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia's.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.
"Little Fires Everywhere" Reviews
So, self-identification determines if a book is YA? Based on more than 60% of the content, this is young adult material. It’s good; parts are excellent, others not so much.
I liked Mia’s backstory as she became an artist using experimental photography. I thought that the custody dispute concerning “Oriental Barbie” was worth at least a star or two.
A lot of the characters are clichéd. The at-home Mr. Richardson could be a cardboard cutout with excellent earning skills. He fairs a lot better before the judge. The Richardson children fit into “The Breakfast Club” well. A jock, a popular girl, a smart kid and Izzy who may well be a transgendered Holden Caulfield (thank you to my GR friend, Bill Kupersmith), but I liked her a lot more than that wretched boy.
So yeah, the Richardson’s have a child for each grade in high-school. Mrs. Richardson produced four singletons in roughly as many years. While in other respects, she is a perfect match for her orderly and rule-bound community. The rapid-fire baby production seemed reckless and out of place. It is the only part of her character that jibbed with aggressively investigating her tenant and employee’s past. Opening a ‘can of worms’ and a house full of screaming babies being equally disordered and unpredictable.
I don’t believe that she is meant to be likable. She approaches friendship with same calculation as Claire Underwood with a careful tally of every kindness. But, as she is central to the book, I wish she were plausible. Even if she were perfectly constructed, the story is still awfully scattered.
My son heard part of the book while we were driving over the holidays. When we stopped, he would say “So” and give a one-sentence summary of the upcoming section or chapter. I don’t believe he has any preternatural gifts as plot savant. A lot of the story is pretty predictable.
I have a quibble about that car. Is that the same VW rabbit Mia’s brother bought when they were teenagers? If so, how did she manage vehicle maintenance on minimum wage earnings supplemented by occasionally selling a piece of art? Twenty to thirty years of use is aging NASA spacecraft territory, but this car starts reliably, runs well over long distances, and doesn’t need any repairs. It seems oddly out of place given the careful mathematics of Bebe’s poverty.
P.S. I stand corrected my son says he is too a plot savant.
I'd rate this 3.5 stars. (I know, it's killing me, too.)
Sometimes one of my greatest frustrations with books I read is that it is difficult for me to believe that a character would do something egregious as a knee-jerk reaction to something they don't agree with. I know, I'm reading fiction, which isn't always directly based on real life, but sometimes a character's actions are so ridiculous and ring so false that they really change my feelings about a book.
Other times a character is so unlikable (although you may discover it's all an act) that they're just so off-putting, and they detract from the book's appeal.
Both things happened for me while reading Celeste Ng's new book, Little Fires Everywhere , and I'm so disappointed, because I wanted to love it. While I found much of the book simply beautiful, the plot—and one character—travel down a path that I found a little too far-fetched and irritating that it spoiled how I felt.
To someone on the outside looking in, the Richardson family seems like the quintessential Shaker Heights, Ohio family—two successful and driven parents, four good-looking children, sure to follow in their parents' footsteps. The perception isn't all false—Elena Richardson, who returned to her hometown after college to raise a family, is a reporter for the local paper; her husband is a successful attorney. Their children, each one year apart, are each popular and successful in their own way, except the youngest, Izzy, who has a knack for standing out, especially if it means pushing her mother's buttons.
When Mia Warren, an enigmatic, slightly bohemian artist, and her daughter Pearl arrive in Shaker Heights, and move into the Richardsons' rental apartment, the family quickly falls under their spell. Pearl, who has moved more times than she can count, always on her mother's whim, has finally extracted a promise from Mia that they will stay in Shaker Heights, and she is excited to finally be able to make friends and cement relationships instead of biding her time until she leaves town again.
Pearl and the Richardsons' younger son, Moody, become close friends, although quickly she becomes a part of the family. Mia, too, in addition to working on her art, begins working for the Richardsons, becoming an unexpected confidante for older daughter Lexie, and forging a relationship with Izzy that she can't have with her mother. But Mia is also wary of the Richardsons and doesn't quite trust that all is as perfect as it seems.
When a custody battle involving one of Elena's oldest friends becomes fodder for the media, everyone in town has an opinion. Elena discovers that she and Mia are on opposite sides of this fight, which causes Elena to view Mia with suspicion. Suddenly she feels the need to find more about this mysterious woman who holds her family in her thrall, and Elena doesn't realize—or care, really—about what damage the truth may cause, for everyone.
"All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never—could never—set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. The key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration."
Little Fires Everywhere is a powerful meditation on motherhood and the sometimes-tenuous bond between mother and child. It's also a book about the destructive power of secrets, misunderstandings, and miscommunication, and how easily problems could be avoided if people would just say what they thought, or speak up rather than let a person roll over them. At its most poignant, this is a book about the damage that can be done by neglect or mistreatment, even when it's unintended, and how finding someone who seems to care about you can be a life-changing force.
Ng is a storyteller with such quiet power. As she did in her spectacular first novel, Everything I Never Told You , she captures the routine and dramatic moments in a family's life, uncovering just how much goes on underneath the silences. While I appreciate her fearlessness in creating unappealing characters, I really was unhappy with some of her choices, which I won't reveal for fear of spoiling the plot, but they just seemed so ludicrous (and in one case, just a wee bit convenient and predictable) that one character and her treatment of others became almost one-dimensional.
I've seen many glowingly positive reviews of this book, so I wouldn't let my criticisms dissuade you from reading it if it interests you. Ng is an immense talent, and I look forward to seeing what's next for her. If you do read this, I would love to talk to you after you're finished, to see what you thought about the things that frustrated me.
See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Little Fires Everywhere is such an apt title for a novel that delves into the intricacies and angst that undoubtedly burns through some relationships—maybe none more so than mother and daughter. At its core, this story explores the notion that being a mother doesn’t mean being perfect; it comes down to love, sacrifice and sheer will. Through her cast of captivating characters, Celeste Ng confronts the reality that haunts us all—each and every one of us is rife with cracks and flaws, no matter how well we hide it from prying eyes. That’s just life.
It’s akin to pure magic when you pick up a book from an author you haven’t read before—I know, what’s wrong with me? How did I miss Everything I Never Told You?—and find yourself caught up in what can only be described as book nirvana. I had heard Celeste Ng’s writing style was incredible, but I took that with a grain of salt—merely an attempt on my part to avoid disappointment. What I didn’t anticipate was this level of character development. This level of intricate detail and the multifaceted beings I wanted nothing more than to surround myself with.
I have to admit, it was Mia that started out as my least favorite of the bunch. Her artsy-fartsy, gypsy-ways came off as incredibly selfish. A mother sacrificing any sense of stability for her daughter, in an attempt to chase her next inspiration, rubbed me the wrong way. How could she not stay in one place and let her incredibly smart daughter thrive?
Then we meet Mrs. Richardson who’s been hell-bent on living the life she laid out so perfectly in her mind. From most angles she has it all—steady career, lovely home, successful husband, wealth and four children. A conundrum of sorts, she’s tenacious, but still somehow oblivious. Initially, I wasn’t really sure what to make of her or her motives—was I reading more into things than I should?
What binds these two very different women together is their teenage children who have their own fires burning between them and a custody battle that rocks their small town. The women end up on opposing sides of the equation, only working to further highlight their differences. The author juxtaposes these two women in many aspects—but not overtly so—and by the end, I was stunned.
What struck me the most about this journey was the author’s ability to change my entire perspective—meaning, my thoughts and feelings in the beginning of the story were vastly different by the time I turned that final page. Some aspects ended on a sad note, but overall it was still a satisfying ending to what I can only describe as a fully immersive novel.
I had the pleasure of reading this with the Traveling Sisters group; what a fun experience it turned out to be. Celeste Ng gave us plenty to discuss. Looking forward to the next read sisters. ♥
*Thank you to Penguin Press and Edelweiss for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
“Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.”
Never in my life have I read any book, any narrative, that cared as deeply for all of its characters as this one did. Little Fires Everywhere lives in the grey area, leaving it impossible not to be invested, impossible not to love every character and cry for every character and root for every character, despite all their flaws.
I really struggle to characterize this book; it’s sort of a combination between a mystery and literary fiction, and will probably work best for you if you’re a fan of both? Little Fires Everywhere is a very slow-burn story about a small town thrown into disarray by a court dispute. When an Asian baby given up by her mother is adopted by a white family, it causes a spiral of events that lead to a scene of a house on fire and a family driven away.
I think I’ve already expressed this, but this book is.... a masterpiece. It’s one of those books that I finished and then was just on my bed tearing up because it’s so well-crafted. The reason this book is so fantastic is primarily structural; we see the end, and then we go back and see the beginning.
But anyway, the reason this book works so well is the characterization. There is so much to appreciate here. I like that Moody is sort of written as the stereotypical jilted nice guy, and and then we see more nuance to that characterization. I loved the complexity of the dynamic between poor characters and rich characters; I loved how no character is black and white, but they have definition nonetheless.
Of the approximately-eleven-person main cast, Izzy is my absolute favorite. Izzy is a ridiculously relatable character for me personally mainly through her relationship with her mom. There’s a line somewhere where Izzy says she thinks her mother sees her as such a demon that all her actions are framed in that light - that was me. And that is still me in my relationship with one of my parents. The degree to which the narrative of this book validates her trauma and her feelings is incredible.
And on another very personal note, Mia… kind of reminds me of my other parent. So some of you who follow me on this platform might now that my mom and I are really, really close, and I grew up with her as my main support system. And I think… her relationship with Izzy just felt so personal to me for that reason.
So maybe this was too personal a read for me, but I’m going to be honest: it’s my belief that reading is something that is meant to be personal. And maybe the degree to which this personally affected me is the most important part of all.
There’s a scene within this book that has stuck with me since the beginning, in which the adoptive mother of the baby is asked how she plans to incorporate Chinese culture into the life of the baby, and she brings up “oriental rugs” and how she gives the baby rice. And it’s this awful moment, because we know she loves that baby. We do. But in that moment she becomes the persecutor of her own child. She does not understand, and so she perpetrates a culture that has been trying to swallow up her child. I think that’s what this book is about, in the end; the degrees to which we can hurt people without ever attempting to, the way we can ruin lives through looking for our own happiness.
This book was masterful. And I hope you all read it.
Blog | Goodreads | Twitter | Youtube
The order of the small town on the riverbank
Forever at war with the order of the dark and starlit soul
—Adrienne Rich, “8/1/68”
The nonconformist has always been at war with the suburbs—Adrienne Rich was writing about it 50 years ago, and she surely was not the first. I can understand this dichotomy; I myself have certainly experienced suburbs where a high level of conformity seemed to be expected, resulting in a weird high-school atmosphere among grown adults. Still, you really don’t have to dig very deep to realize that things aren’t as black-and-white as they seem. There are all different kinds of people living everywhere, with varying degrees of happiness and fulfillment. All of which is to say, if you’re going to write on this theme now, you should probably have something new to add to the conversation, or at least a unique way of expressing it.
Little Fires Everywhere takes place in the planned community of Shaker Heights, where an artist named Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl move into a rental home after having lived a peripatetic existence since Pearl’s birth. The battle lines are immediately drawn: the nonconformist, creative Mia versus the staid middle-aged matrons of Shaker Heights. Mind you, these battle lines aren’t initially drawn by the characters, but by the author, who makes it clear that Mia is the moral center of the book. Characters who like Mia are the good characters; characters who don’t like Mia are the bad characters; and characters who are suspicious of Mia at first and then come around to liking her have experienced a redemptive arc. This would be less problematic if Mia hadn’t [spoilers removed]. I was honestly horrified by Mia’s actions and I wasn’t brought around by the fact that she was an artist, or by the fact that she was allegedly the best mother since the Virgin Mary or whatever. But as far as this book is concerned, Mia is the real deal, an infinitely better person than all those Shaker Heights parents, who, let’s face it, are all kind of repressed. Being repressed is the real sin of suburbanites, you see. Nothing could possibly be worse, I guess. Oh, there’s also a subplot regarding a custody battle between a set of adoptive white Shaker Heights parents and the baby’s biological mother, a young Chinese immigrant, which could have been really interesting, but it’s given short shrift and is clearly meant only to underscore how amazing Mia is and how horrible the Shaker Heights mothers are in comparison.
Now look, I don’t expect any character to be perfect, and I did not expect that from the character of Mia. Obviously, someone in the novel needed to do something scandalous, or you’d have no book at all. What I don’t like is being told who to root for. I don’t like it when authors stack the deck. Just present every character in the fullness of their humanity and let me decide who I’m rooting for. If you’ve done your job properly, I’ll root for who you want me to root for anyway. But if you idealize one extremely flawed character at the expense of everyone else, you’re going to lose me. You’re going to make me side with a bunch of repressed Shaker Heights matrons I have nothing in common with, because those poor matrons never even had a chance at the end of your pen.
Okay, so the nonconformist versus the suburbs theme wasn’t handled in a particularly original or illuminating way here. It’s possible the book could have been redeemed by good writing, except Little Fires Everywhere doesn’t really have that either. The constantly shifting viewpoints didn’t work for me at all—and when I say constantly shifting, I don’t mean chapter by chapter. I mean paragraph by paragraph, and sometimes sentence by sentence. This results in some extreme awkwardness, as when every sentence in a paragraph is from the point of view of the character of Izzy, except for one sentence in the middle that relays a piece of information that Izzy doesn’t know. I guess an omniscient narrator is responsible for that particular sentence? In a few instances the omniscient narrator is even more obtrusive, reminding us who does and doesn’t know certain things that have just occurred from one character’s viewpoint. But beyond the awkwardness, so many characters are given a moment in the spotlight that I never really felt like I got to know most of them, and what we do know is revealed mainly through soliloquies and flashbacks, some of which are so long and involved that they derail the main story and quash any possible shot at narrative momentum. And let’s not forget the eye-rollingly dramatic and implausible plot twists that make it seem as if the author has watched too much Grey’s Anatomy. There’s the college student who can’t afford the year’s tuition, and because she’s [spoilers removed]. There’s the character who is suspected of [spoilers removed] And then there’s the beloved mentor who is of course [spoilers removed] There’s just so much crammed into this book, but it all adds up to so little.
This is all very awkward, because a representative of the publisher offered me this ARC a few weeks ago and I enthusiastically accepted. I hadn’t read Celeste Ng’s previous novel, but I was under the impression that she was a good writer and I thought I would really enjoy this one. But I didn’t, and I have to be honest about it, because if I’m not honest about the books I dislike, I can’t expect anyone to trust my word on any book I review. Little Fires Everywhere seemed endless, it was pedestrian and tedious, and it just regurgitated stereotypes about the suburbs we’ve all heard countless times before. I initially thought I would give it 2 stars because, even though I didn’t like it, it seemed to me that the author had done what she’d set out to do, and I wanted to acknowledge that. But by the time I reached the end of the book, I’d changed my mind. It now seems to me that the author truly believes she’s written something deeply meaningful, and I know this sounds harsh, but I don’t agree. I learned nothing from this book and I didn’t enjoy the experience. There’s just no other way to say it.