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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: My take on the book #review #book2movie

Penguin Press Book Cover for Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

We learned back in March that Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington were teaming up to bring Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere to the small screen in a limited series format. So when I saw the novel sitting in the NEW! section of my library I snapped it up. I brought it home along with a tote full of other books—Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Nick Hornby’s Funny Girl and The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout—joking with the librarian that I better read Little Fires Everywhere first, since I had to return it within seven days. 

‘‘Oh, don’t worry,” she said, ‘‘I flew through it. It really took me by surprise.’’

That being said, I did NOT read the inside flap describing and pitching the book which I’m including below. I read the book. And fell in love. Much as Reese & Kerry did.

Reese Witherspoon “reading’’ Little Fires Everywhere

Ng looks without blinking at the upscale town of Shaker Heights—where the author herself spent time growing up— revealing a swath of characters, from the privileged children of a local journalist and her lawyer husband, to Mia, the single mother, and artist who barely keeps herself and her daughter afloat. One person’s dream of a big house with a pristine pool might be another person’s nightmare of what life is supposed to be. Giving us a cross-generational look at a wealth of issues from class to choice—about abortion rights, parental rights yes but also choices about how we choose to live our lives, how all dreams don’t necessarily match up to some pre-ordained American dream of success—Ng’s writing is so fluid, so filled with imagery and depth, I was simply captivated.   

As a very amateur photographer myself, I was quite taken with Mia, the artist whose photographs keep her and her teenage daughter going. Ng (pronounced ING) writes about Mia’s work with such affection and clarity, I found my inner artist inspired as well, much as I did when reading Anna Quindlen’s Still Life with Bread Crumbs.

Her daughter Pearl loves and admires Mia but as a sexually awakened teen is beginning to understand her needs may not always be in sync with her mother’s. While my head and heart belonged to Mia, I appreciated the YA characters and their storylines. As in life, of course, teenagers with their burgeoning wants and needs do occasionally clash with their parental needs for structure and order. 

Again, Ng’s style is gorgeous, allowing us to see and feel each moment with both the younger and adult characters. 

On the downside, there were a few points in the book where I questioned Mia’s choices. As much as I enjoyed the novel, mesmerized by Mia’s intensity, touched by the difficulties of family, crying over the issues of culture the book raised, I wasn’t completely happy with the ending. Without spoiling it, I will only say while I believe Mia’s final choice is completely in character as drawn by Ng, I was frustrated and disappointed that she wouldn’t talk about her decision more openly with Pearl. As a mother, I would have hoped she would give her daughter’s own needs and maturity more respect and consideration.

 Then again, none of us are perfect and more than anything the book shows us there are many sides to the important questions, that none of us have all the answers, that human beings are deeply flawed, muddling along, some more blindly than others.

My librarian friend was right, at 335 pages, packed with engrossing overlapping storylines, rich and complex characters, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, is a book you can’t help but fly through. No surprise that Witherspoon and Washington are bringing it to the screen. Interesting to see where they take it.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng alternative book cover

About the book:

From the bestselling author of EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, a riveting story that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who up-end 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. 

Have you read Little Fires Everywhere? Who do you see as Mia? How about her polar opposite, the uptight local journalist and mother, Elena Richardson? Let me know in the comments section, I’m all ears.