Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of novels about family dynamics and the drama that ensures when people who are different are forced together because they’re family. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng fits perfectly in that niche. There’s family, a surprise visitor in town, tradition, and (quite literally) little fires everywhere.
The Cronk Summary: When the mysterious and artistic Mia Warren arrives in the boring sounding Shaker Heights with her daughter Pearl, the town doesn’t realize that everything is going to change for one of their model families: The Richardson. Yes; the T is capitalized because everyone knows they’re a Shaker Heights original family with their original house and four children running around (Lexie, Izzy, Moody, and Trip). The children are amazed by Mia and Pearl while their mother Mrs. Richardson is suspicious and their father seems to be a benign painting on the wall. When the Richardson’s friends adopt a Chinese-American baby, the town is scandalized and everyone has to pick a side with Elena and Mia disagreeing. What happens next will change everything; like these books do.
I really enjoyed this book! I would give it a solid 4 stars. The narrative flows from one character to the next very naturally. So for example, you might see things through Moody’s perspective while also learning about Pearl’s life. From there, you seamlessly start to learn about Mia and Pearl’s life. And so on.
The narrative is driven by the mothers in this book. Primarily, this is through Mrs. Richardson and Mia clashing, but also through the secondary characters involved in the custody battle. The central theme is: What makes a mother? Is it genetics? Is it nurturing? Can you choose your family?
Not only are these questions debated in a public forum through the custody battle, but it’s also happening in the Warrens and Richardson’ homes. Both mothers are rejected by a daughter. Pearl prefers the stability and idyllic life that the Richardson children enjoy. Izzy, the rebellious youngest Richardson daughter, is attracted to the nomadic and artistic life that Mia leads. Mia worries that Pearl prefers their life over the one they created and doesn’t blame her. Mia has wandered around the country with Pearl for as long as she’s been alive; it’s understandable that Pearl wants stability. The relationship between Elena and Izzy is more tumultuous. Elena doesn’t understand Izzy and seems to resent her, something that Izzy has picked up on, but can’t explain.
The question at the center of the custody battle is the most challenging. Between a birth mother who wants her baby and the adoptive family that’s been taking care of her, who is the child’s mother? It’s hard to talk about this section without giving the ending away, but the ending is just as heartbreaking as the premise.
The one negative that I have with this book is one of it’s strengths: the writing. Because it flows between characters as the story moves along, some characters are ignored for long stretches of time. Mr. Richardson and Trip are 2D characters that suffer from this format while Mrs. Richardson and Pearl, for example, have more dimension.
Overall, I think Little Fires Everywhere is a worthy book of your TBR stack. If you’ve read it, let me know if you agree with me or disagree with my review. What’s on your TBR?