book review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

read in January 2018

format: hardcover

Spoiler-free review!

synopsis

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 principal 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.

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng was my favourite read of 2017, so it’s safe to say my expectations for Little Fires Everywhere were high. I didn’t quite love it as much as Ng’s debut novel, but it was superb nonetheless.

Though I hadn’t expected Little Fires Everywhere to be so character-driven, I didn’t mind. Mia and Izzy were definitely my favourite characters. Celeste Ng has this wonderful ability to write characters who are flawed and complex, yet you don’t hate them. Her characters are real human beings, who sometimes say really shitty things, but it’s somehow always obvious that the author doesn’t share the same opinion.

I couldn’t really connect with this book at the beginning because it was so different from what I had expected. Most people talk about the adoption in their synopsis, though that isn’t really mentioned until 140 pages into the book. It wasn’t the centre of the plot, but the adoption case did leave the biggest impression on me because it is so complex. It did not only deal with motherhood, but with class, money and race as well. It was sometimes infuriating to read, but enlightening at the same time. Once again, it shows the beauty of Ng’s writing, because she proves that not everything is black and white, but rather complicated.

Another reason why I struggled at the start was the third person perspective. I’m usually a huge fan of it but it was somewhat disconnecting in Little Fires Everywhere: there wasn’t a distinct point-of-view, we witnessed everyone’s thoughts.

content and trigger warning for (contains spoilers!!!): fire, ableist language, underage drinking, poverty, drug use, racism, unprotected sex, abortion, adoption, early-born baby, shaming women who have sex/abortions


I would absolutely recommend Little Fires Everywhere to fans of Everything I Never Told You and Big Little Lies, to readers who like novels about complex characters, their secrets and personal battles.

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