Friday, 1 June 2018

Little Fires Everywhere Review #MNBookClub

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is a book which makes you question the idea of race and privilege. It's set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a progressive neighbourhood where the houses are picture-perfect. Even the flats for those who are on lower incomes are built in the style of the beautiful houses around, giving the impression of an entirely affluent area. The novel centres around two families, the Richardson's, a privileged family whose parents both work, the main female character Elena is a reporter and her husband is a lawyer and they have four teenage children. The other family consists of Mia Warren and her teenage daughter. Mia is Elena's tenant, and rather than pay rent, she does housekeeping for Elena. Mia is a photographer an artist and lives hand to mouth in terms of her income.

The book opens with a fire, the Richardson's house is literally burning to the ground, and characters are speculating as to who has done it. Then the next chapter goes back to the past, to tell the tale of how the house came to be set alight, who did it and why. The book is set in the 1990's, a decade that I can totally relate to being a teenager in. There are cultural references to Jerry Springer and going to the cinema to watch Titanic, which I did at the time, although it was with my best friends rather than a boyfriend.


The dynamic between the teenagers, and the tensions between families is perfectly written. The sub-plots in the book are engaging and the story gets under your skin, to the point that when you are not reading it, you're thinking about it. I even dreamed about it, so it was clearly on my mind all the time. It's all-consuming. I finished it in a couple of days because I simply had to keep reading as I needed to know what would happen next.

Celeste Ng writes wonderfully and the story has a subtle political undercurrent throughout the book. Her characters are perfectly imperfect, and wonderfully relevant in society now. There are so many different elements of the story which make you question what you think you know, and what is morally right or wrong. Not least the the transracial custody battle within the book. This eloquently depicts the rift between social class and privilege. At times it is uncomfortable to read, especially the attempts made by a white privileged family, the McCulloughs, who want to ensure the child would be connected to their birth culture. They are well-meaning, but their attempts are clunky and show they really do not understand the heritage of the child at all.

I don't think that you need to be a mother or maternal to understand the complexities in the  relationships between the mothers in this story and their children. I think that highlighting the things that mothers give up or sacrifice for their children is incorporated into the story very well.


Little Fires Everywhere is an incredibly satisfying read and I simply didn't want it to end. It's a book that left me wanting more! It also encouraged me to question the kind of person I think I am, and really look deeper within myself after reading the book. I think it is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to write in a way which doesn't prescribe a way of thinking, but rather encourages the reader to question their own cultural biases. Little Fires Everywhere is without a doubt one of the best books I have read this year and I would definitely recommend adding it to your to be read list.

HelpfulMum
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