It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

IMWAYR 2015

My resolution for the new year is to read fiction that is neither middle grade nor YA; luckily, I got a head start on that goal over Winter Break with this new, and much-heralded book:

I loved Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, also a wise and lyrically written story about families, parenting, and the ways in which society intrudes and often perverts.  Ng is a fearless writer and an honest one – Everything I Never Told You  was, at times, excruciatingly difficult to read for it made me think about my own efforts at parenting and how they went awry at times, as parenting is wont to do. 

Little Fires Everywhere is an equally brilliant book, although the scope widens to include class, race, and the politics of gender and poverty.  Here the book jacket synopsis:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors 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 teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides.  Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

Shaker Heights is the mirror image of the town I’ve lived in for many years, and I therefore understood Elena Richardson and her children all too well.  Our town, too, is said to embody all that a perfect town should, and many of its residents (like those of Shaker Heights) have returned to raise their own families in its perfection.  Elena’s children reminded me of so many young people I’ve come to know over the years, who grew up within the entitled confines of perfection, often at a great distance from truth, introspection, and a sense of genuine empathy.  They live in bubbles of prosperity and a self-congratulatory contentment, and seek to find similar bubbles however far they may wander from home.

I love the way Ng is able to build each character little by little, and weave the sometimes interconnecting narratives expertly through surprises and tragedies.  Each narrative stands on its own quite beautifully, but running through and around each other as they do makes for a captivating reading experience.  I am looking forward to reading it all over again for a Voxer book group, I imagine we will have some lively conversations!

 

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7 thoughts on “It’s Monday and Here’s What I’m Reading: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

  1. I came back to adult fiction in 2017 after several years of reading exclusively kidlit. It’s nice to have more of a balance in my reading list! This one looks good. I’ve seen the cover but didn’t know much about it – thanks for the review and happy new year!

  2. I read this book recently. I didn’t enjoy it at first, but half way through it got very interesting. I don’t read nearly as much grown-up fiction as I used to. I made it a point to read a grown-up book over the break. It was a great read – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

  3. I haven’t read Ng’s books yet, read fewer adult books as Lisa above shared, but now you’ve made me want to, Tara. One of the challenges we felt for our students where I worked was to find authentic ways to make them uncomfortable. I had many wonderful students, but found they rarely had to do something very hard. I suspect this book is one I would like to have had a long time ago. Thanks for the great review.

  4. Wow, sounds intense! I do read quite a lot of adult books, but rarely literary fiction. What an interesting setting, worlds away from my very urban childhood, I wonder if that would impact how I interpret the story. Thank you for sharing this one!

  5. This is our book-of-the-month for my book club this January – thank you for reminding me that I have to get on this one soonest! 🙂 Beautiful review, as always, dear Tara! I hope you have a wonderful 2018 ahead of you!

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