Little Fires Everywhere Review

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: My Review

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that too. They start over. They find a way.

Little Fires Everywhere was a phenomenal book. From beginning to end I was utterly hooked on the writing and the characters and honestly went on such a journey that I was devastated once it was over. 

I think the best way to sum up this novel would be a kind of domestic drama, set in the 1990s in the affluent suburb of Shaker Heights. Here, everything is meticulously planned and appearances are carefully policed  - residents are fined for not mowing their lawn, annual house inspections are conducted and rubbish cannot be put out front as it is too unsightly. Celeste Ng explores, in the most subtle but effective of ways, many different themes in the book, including racial and cultural bias, privilege, class, order, adolescence, motherhood and so much more. 

It is the intricate character dynamics that ultimately drive this story. There are a lot of subplots happening within the book but it was easy to keep up and I found myself completely invested in all of their lives. In fact, the title of the novel couldn't be more apt as it really delves into the angst that burns through some relationships. Celeste Ng does the most phenomenal job of creating a cast of characters where every single one is wonderfully developed and fleshed out. It's through these characters that she confronts the reality that haunts us - we are all cracked and flawed in one way or another, no matter how hard we try to hide it, and that's okay because that's just life. 

The story rotates around two families, the Richardsons and the Warrens, and the clash in personality between Mrs Richardson and Mia Warren. Married with four children, Mrs Richardson's family has lived in Shaker Heights for many generations; she is hell-bent on doing the right thing and living the life she has laid out so perfectly in her head. She is like a physical embodiment of the place in which she lives, all about order and stability and legacy, but when Mia arrives in Shaker Heights she is forced to confront what lurks beneath the polished surface of her life. Mia represents all that Mrs Richardson is not; she is a free-spirit artist with a daughter named Pearl whom she drags from one place to the next in her old VW car as she seeks new inspirations for her projects. She doesn't care about money, she has nothing tethering her: everything in her life is directed to art.

A few things end up binding these two women together. Mia and Pearl rent a property owned by the Richardsons and Mia is also employed to cook and clean at their house. Pearl, who craves the stability she has never known, is dazzled by the Richardsons and spends most of her time with Moody, Lexie and Trip Richardson, and soon they have their own fires burning between them. Meanwhile, Izzy Richardson is drawn to Mia as a more mother-like figure than Mrs Richardson herself, who has always condoned Izzy for overstepping the line with her creativity and combative nature. Then one day, Shaker Heights becomes split by a custody battle over an Asian-American baby girl, May Ling Chow, and Mrs Richardson and Mia end up on opposing sides. 

The story-line of May Ling Chow's adoption was surprisingly thought-provoking for me and had me asking myself some questions I'd never considered before about motherhood and what truly makes a suitable mother. Half the time I could not decide which side I was on as Celeste Ng is very sensitive to both sides of the argument, exploring them in depth and always validating each perspective in some way. In fact, I feel a good word to use to describe this novel is balanced, both for the reasons I've just discussed and also the relationship the author has with her characters. She grants empathy to everyone, even the most morally corrupt and undeserving, and does so in such a convincing and authentic way - one moment I hated a character and then a few chapters later I found pity for them. Everyone is given a backstory and is so well-rounded that it is actually hard to discern the main characters from the secondary characters. 

I'd love to go more into depth but there are just too many things about this novel to explore. Little Fires Everywhere deserves all the positive reviews it receives and I'm so glad I read it as I've found such a huge love for Celeste Ng as a writer. I will be recommending this to people for a very long time. 

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