The award winning Little Fires Everywhere was written by American novelist Celeste Ng and published in 2017 by Perigee Books. This New York Times bestseller has received a wealth of praise and is set to become a TV series adaptation later this year.
This deeply thought-provoking read is sure to render you emotionally invested in its skilfully fleshed out characters and engaging story. The book’s strengths for me are its characters and use of symbolism. Even characters of partial significance as with those whose actions you may not agree with are developed flawlessly. For the most part, the characters are truly 3-dimensional and the use of mainly flashbacks but also non-exhaustive exposition, keeps you vested in their growth as a character.
Little Fires Everywhere discusses its central theme of motherhood in light of the two main characters; Mia Warren and Elena Richardson, both of which are mothers under very different circumstances and with opposing ideals. Mia and her daughter Pearl lead simple carefree lives possessing only rudimentary items which allows them to pack up and move anywhere to pursue Mia’s passion for photography.
Elena on the other hand is the embodiment of conformity and her poster family upholds the Shaker Heights standard of commercial-like perfection. When Peal first visits the Richardson family home, it was like someone describing the American Dream. The Richardson family home aptly symbolises the perfect model of an everyday family in Shaker Heights.
This clash between Mia and Elena creates a tense uncomfortable dynamic that boils over when a case involving the motherhood of a Chinese baby girl splits a chasm between the entire community. The story does well to explore this divide from a cultural perspective as well as from a mother’s stance.
It was interesting to read about how the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin was used to symbolise nontraditional motherhood and in so doing discussing whether or not this type of motherhood should be discredited. Fire is also a symbol that is used to create dramatic irony from the outset and expose the seemingly poster perfect veneer that is the Richardson family in the form of their youngest daughter, Izzy whose lack of belonging stirs the embers of disenfranchisement.
I wasn’t too keen on the high school elements of the story which came across as incredibly cliché to me involving all the things we’ve come to affliate with American high schools in any piece of TV, literature or film, namely that one popular person whose having a party at theirs ‘this weekend,’ (why is it always this weekend?) the crushes, the pressure to have sex and the overbearing jocks. Had these elements been condensed or removed altogether, (because I’m a savage)* I definitely would have enjoyed the story a lot more.
Little Fires Everywhere is a powerfully written narrative that paces itself really well and ends in a resonant way that kept me thinking about the outcomes. For all its teenage tantrums, this very easy to recommend book is one I look forward to reading again.
I rate Little Fires Everywhere…
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