Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads Synopsis:

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.

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.

~❀~

This book was very heavy, and this weight crowned every word with necessity, tinged every scene with anticipation, and only intensified as the story went on. I liked the way this made the book thought-provoking, but at times, it got to be a bit much. In every scene, there was a looming feeling that something was about to go wrong and because I was constantly on-edge, I found it difficult to really get immersed in the story. Every scene was uncomfortable, and though this may have been Ng’s intention, personally, I found the storyline to be rather rocky.

Ng was sure to put each character under the microscope, and I found this interesting. For every action a character made, the context and the heart behind the action was highlighted, and as a result, sympathy felt unavoidable. Especially when characters made questionable, selfish decisions, I found myself wondering if I, too, would’ve made the same decisions if placed in their circumstances.

The book dealt with several controversial topics and circumstances dealing with race, custody, the definition of motherhood, intentions vs actions, and more. Ng managed to capture the complexity of such issues and wasn’t afraid to explore the many different aspects and perspectives of the topics, especially analyzing the way they have progressed through time. It was very intriguing and very messy, which I think is well-reflected in this excerpt:

“But the problem with rules…was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time there were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure which side of the line you stood on.”

Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

Ultimately, no one can force their understanding of normalcy on others because “rules” hold too much gray area, and are also simply too different for each individual, for anyone to really be the judge of others.

The final scene was raw and tender in the way a mother’s love only knows to be. Though a bit abrupt, I felt it redeemed Elena Robinson by revealing her heart at its core, in all of its fear and love, while also serving as a punishment for all the trouble her small-mindedness caused others. It also reflected the struggles of family and love found in all characters, which I thought provided good closure.

One thing I personally found a little disappointing was that not all of the problems had been resolved. Some characters moved on and still others were left in the dark, leaving us to simply wonder and trust that piece by piece, the truth would be revealed; that story by story, the characters would learn to understand one another the way we, as readers, came to understand them. I know this was technically a realistic approach to the ending, but I couldn’t help wishing for a happy ending for everyone. However, I understand that this sort of uncertainty was really the only way the story could have concluded, since mystery is the very essence of the novel.

This book was heavy and reflective, but there was also surprisingly a lot of action. The plot moved very quickly, with each chapter bringing about a new, significant finding. This made the storyline too conveniently dramatic, but each detail did serve a purpose in conveying the themes, so it was fine. Interestingly, though, whether this book is about hopefulness or hopelessness is fully dependent on the reader; especially near the end, I found it to be very make-of-it-what-you-will and as it depended on whether you believed that the good of the story outweighed the bad, that the underlying motives–recognized or not–justified the actions. 

All-in-all, I have very mixed feelings about this book. I don’t know if I would read it again because I personally found it to be so intense, but if I ever need an emotional read, I’ll definitely consider picking up this book (and you should too).

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