If you’ve been following my reviews you know that most of the books I read and review are suspense/mystery/thrillers. Occasionally I take a break from my go-to genre and read a character driven family drama. I don’t always love them, and have to remind myself that the pace is slower, the climax isn’t such a crescendo, and everyone usually survives.
This book--Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng--I loved. It’s layered and engrossing. I finished it last week and I am really not even sure how to review it, but here is my attempt.
Little Fires takes place in late 90’s Shaker Heights, an affluent planned suburb of Cleveland. We meet the Richardsons, an upper middle-class family with 4 high school age children (all Americans Lexie & Trip, troubled Izzie, and thoughtful Moody) and their matriarch Mrs. Richardson. The Richardsons rent out a modest duplex on the outskirts of the town to various tenants (even though they “did not need the money”); artist Mia Warren and her 15-year-old daughter Pearl have just moved in.
I read Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, which started with a girl’s death. The rest of the book worked backwards unraveling the mystery. In Little Fires, she structures the story similarly. The book starts with the end, someone has set the Richardson’s house on fire “The firemen said there were little fires everywhere”. And this begins the story.
Part of the story is about the Richardsons and life in their community which places importance on morality and appearances. Part of the story is about Pearl and her growing closeness to the Richardson kids, meaningful to her because she’s never belonged anywhere. Part of the story is about Mia’s past and how she became a “gypsy”, moving around constantly with Pearl who never knew her father or any other family. And part of the story centers on a high-profile custody battle that takes place in Shaker Heights, when a good friend of the Richardsons attempts an adoption of a Chinese baby, dividing the town and the main characters. These stories are woven together so well that the characters become intertwined.
For me this book was about the profound bond between mother and daughter, the secrets behind a perceived utopia that can unravel a family, privilege & loss, the choices we make, and the consequences of our decisions.
If this all sounds good to you, take a little break from 2017 and read this book about the time when Clinton was president, Jerry Springer was still popular, smart phones weren’t invented yet, and a lot of other stuff is still the same.
Best paired with a big bowl of popcorn with Jerry Springer on in the background!