Saturday, November 18, 2017

Review: Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

"But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow."
The citizens of Shaker Heights, Ohio, are proud to live in a community that boasts thoughtful planning, impeccable schools, and well maintained lawns. These are civil, harmonious folk, who value diversity, civic duty, and community service. But behind the carefully maintained family narratives and idyllic facades, fires are burning.

Into the tidy, well ordered life of the Richardson family comes a free-spirited artist, Mia Warren, who becomes a lifeline for misfit Izzy Richardson, and Mia's teenage daughter, Pearl, who quickly becomes inseparable from the other Richardson children. Mia takes up the cause of a young Chinese immigrant seeking to regain custody of the baby girl she abandoned in desperation, setting Mia in direct opposition to her landlord and Richardson matriarch, Elena, who is best friends with the adoptive parents. The Richardson family and the community as a whole erupt and divide over the case and their alliances, Elena unearths and reveals devastating secrets from Mia's past, and their world as they know it goes up in flames.

It took a few chapters for this novel to take hold for me, but once it did, I couldn't put it down.  I was drawn in by each of the characters - the dutiful suburban mom; each of the teens with their realistic personalities, friendships and romances; the fiercely supportive but emotionally elusive Mia. The personal stories are very naturally woven together with the larger questions of cross-cultural adoption, and of the narratives we tell ourselves about who we believe we are.

Sometimes a book comes to you just when you need it most. I don't know if the author knew how timely this book would be, but to me it seemed uncanny. One of the most profound and hard to comprehend aspects of the national and political upheavals of the past year has for me, as I imagine for many people, been the realization that perhaps we had built a common story that idealized who we thought we were as a country, only to watch it implode - maybe because we took it for granted. For me, too, these larger dramas came layered upon a twelve month outbreak of personal wildfires, from which goodness miraculously, but unfailingly, keeps rising from the ashes. We are all Shaker Heights, Ohio. We are each of us both Richardsons and Warrens, parents and children, solitary yet inseparable. We are each of us Izzy, lighting fires where we need to, and we are each of us Mia, creating lasting beauty out of that which is left.

I borrowed my copy of Little Fires Everywhere from the public library.  Happy reading!

1 comment :

  1. I read an article recently that adoption is really only good for white women. The article claimed that poor women of color are most often told to put their babies up for adoption, while white women or teens who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant are given support to raise their babies. It was a thought-provoking article, and your review reminded me of it.--Grab the Lapels


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