Book Review: "Little Fires Everywhere"

The book Little Fires Everywhere written by Celeste Ng was released in 2017, and had a good performance with the critics, winning awards such as Best Fiction of the Year by Amazon and also on Goodreads. The novel is back after a show based on it was released in march of this year on the streaming platform Hulu, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington

Celeste Ng’s second novel, displays Shaker Heights resident's false perfection. It takes place in this town in Ohio, where everything is extremely planned out: the grass must be mown regularly and even the houses’ colors must follow a certain standard.

Sure enough, Shaker Heights is the best and most important character in the novel. With Mia’s arrival, the town’s conflicts are brought out, especially the ones in the Richardson family. From this moment on, Shaker Heights’ harmony is shaken and the town stops being predictable, taking the characters out of their comfort zone.

Because of that, Shaker Heights transcends the role of a simple background to the essential bond element in the story. A fun fact: Shaker Heights is a real city where Celeste Ng lived throughout some of her teenage years.

The plot does not follow a strict timeline. Despite the chronological changes calling for a closer attention from the reader, it is done with naturality and subtlety, not causing any ruptures or inconsistency in the story, that takes place around 1990. 

Plot of the Book

Furthermore, the initial pages of the novel are about the fire in the Richardson family mansion, which started with just little spots in different rooms in the house. The metaphor that names the book is more evident in this point in the story, although it is present in all of Celeste Ng’s writing.

Mia Warren is a photographer who also has other side jobs to add to the income, and is always moving around. But, after her daughter, Pearl, asked for more stability, the Warrens decided to move to Shaker Heights, in an apartment rented from Elena Richardson.

So, begins the quarrel between Elena and the mysterious Mia. The start to the gradual conflict between the characters is after a Chinese immigrant, Mia’s friend, abandons her baby, since she is not financially capable of raising the child.

However, when a couple friends with the Richardson family tries to adopt the baby, the mother comes back wanting her back. Involved in opposite sides of the fight for the custody, Elena and Mia intensify their disagreement, which, in reality, is not just about the legal dispute, but about the contrast between their personalities, which shakes the false stability in Shaker Heights. 

Each confrontation between the Richardsons and the Warrens leaves a vestige, or a little fire. Meaning that every victory or solving of a problem leaves a mark in each of their lives, and also makes their imperfections more and more clear.

Social Approach 

The author manages to balance both the adult’s and the children’s plots, in a way that all of them are connected by the main subject: the idealization of maternity and its sacrifices. 

The author also approaches other subjects, such as abortion, women’s rights, stereotypes and racism, which overall contribute to enrichen the provocative story. Even though some of them are just scratched, it is still done in an extremely interesting way.

Knowing that there are many subjects that deserve a deeper approach, given that it does not happen many of the times in this book, a wider debate is stopped. However, it is undeniable that all of the topics are brought in a subtle and persistent way. 

A character who grows important in the plot is the youngest daughter in the Richardson family who, like Mia, represents the opposite of everything that is valued in the town. Izzy is a girl who constantly questions the city’s standards which, even when having good grades, is not an expected behavior of a Shaker Heights resident.

Drama or Suspense?

Even though the novel brings many main characters, their personalities are consistent and different.  And, most importantly, their connections and relationships aren’t shallow nor meaningless. Celeste Ng manages to bring inner conflicts that take to important debates.

Having all of that in mind, “Little Fires Everywhere” gets the reader involved with the slow delivery of information that is brought throughout the chapters. However, at certain parts the reading gets slow, due to the lack of big events in the story.

As an additional point, the book can be a let down to those who like suspense, which is missed and could contribute to a deeper submersion in the story. Given that the few moments of curiosity in the novel are great, they should have been more explored. 

Celeste Ng’s first goal is to discuss family relationships, which she does successfully. The family topics approached are complex, mainly mother and daughter relationships, and are complemented by Shaker Heights and the need – or lack of will – to adjust to it. The beliefs are represented as the town, but one of the main points in the novel is the breaking of rules and traditions. 

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The article above was edited by Clara Suaiden. 

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