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
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....
All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control.
4 1/2 stars. You should go into this book expecting what it is: a slow-moving character portrait filled with complex family dynamics and small-town politics. If you know what this is, like with Ng's Everything I Never Told You, and don't go into it expecting fast-pacing and high-octane drama, you will probably find this quiet read to be extremely engrossing and emotional.
I have to be in the mood for this kind of read, but when I am, it packs a powerful punch. These characters are so vivid, so real, so caught up in the little fires of everyday life in Shaker Heights. There's several stories going on in here, but the book begins with literal fires lighting up the Richardson household and the knowledge that the youngest daughter, Izzy, the wild card, has disappeared. Presumably because she is guilty of the arson.
Then we move back from there. We start to get a portrait of the events leading up to this dramatic fire. We see the poor artist, Mia, and her daughter, Pearl, move into town and the effect they have on all members of the Richardson family. Further back, we get the past stories of almost every character who comes into this book. It is such a rich work in which the personal stories and experiences of secondary characters play a huge part in influencing how events unfold.
And, behind it all, is a court case that will affect all the characters lives. A custody battle over a Chinese baby who could be given every toy, every desire, every opportunity by her rich and white adoptive parents - but is that all? Is that enough when her poor birth mother is ready and willing to care for her? Things become very tense. The town becomes divided. And I felt an emotional wreck by the end of it, too.
Mrs. Richardson, however, could not let Izzy be, and the feeling coalesced in all of them: Izzy pushing, her mother restraining, and after a time no one could remember how the dynamic had started, only that it had existed always.
The Richardson family, along with Mia and Pearl, Bebe, and the McCulloughs, all pulled me into their lives. I despised a character at one point, only to find pity for them a couple of chapters later. The relationship between Izzy and her mother was a real point of interest for me. How Mrs. Richardson's fears about Izzy affected her behaviour toward her, which in turn affected how Izzy behaved. All leading to the ultimate question: was Izzy always what Mrs. Richardson feared she was? Or did Mrs. Richardson create what she most feared through her treatment of Izzy?
Little Fires Everywhere is a great example of how small character dynamics can create a powerful and fascinating story. I love the empathy the author shows for all the people in this book - even the manipulative, morally corrupt and undeserving. No one is merely good or bad. And that is what makes the book so effective. Whose side am I on? I'll let you know if I ever figure it out.
Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
“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
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.
If this book does not get your brain churning, well, then you did not read the same book I just did!
This book is filled with so many scenarios with so many questions and no perfect answers. Every situation is a little pile of kindling and any of the questionable solutions will only ignite the fire . . . soon you have a bunch of fires ready to burn everything to the ground. Man, that would be a great title for this book! Oh . . . wait . . .
It has been a long time since I remember reading a book where my mind and problem solving skills have been this challenged. Usually when you are reading you think, "well, the best route for them to follow is this" or "Geez, it's obvious that they should never have done that." In this book I just kept thinking, "I am glad I am not the one who has to make any of these decisions!"
Also, this book is full of so many misunderstandings. I get frustrated when someone is falsely accused or the wrong conclusion is assumed. Every 15 minutes I found myself yelling at this book!
"IT WASN'T HER!"
"NO, THAT'S NOT WHAT HAPPENED! SOMEONE SPEAK UP!"
"OH, THIS ISN'T GOING TO END WELL!"
I believe I have said it before, but any time a book has you engaged so much you yell at it, want to pull the characters out of the pages and shake them, and/or need a stiff drink to calm your nerves at the end of each chapter, you are reading a pretty darn good book.
Give your analytical side a gift and read this book - it would be a great one for a book club. I imagine it would certainly lead to some lively discussion!