Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

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“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”

– page 324

Celeste Ng’s book has once again amazed me by the way she portrays her characters and the unpredictable plot in the story. This time, it was ‘Little Fires Everywhere’. A bestselling book published in 2017 that receives a high rating on online bookstores and other social media platforms.

The story is actually quite complex indeed. With multiple problems that the characters are facing. All readers know at the beginning is that Izzy, daughter of the Richardson family, has set her house on fire and is currently gone missing. It was after that incident when the writer started to unfold the whole story from the very beginning.

I noticed that revealing the ending first is kind of the style of Celeste Ng’s writings, since she also did that in her previous book: ‘Everything I Never Told You’. But it always creates almost like a mystery vibe to it that engage people to read more and more.

After the fire on the Richardson’s house, readers are introduced with a lot of different characters with their own complex personality and problems. It started with Mia and Pearl Warren, a pair of mother and daughter who seemed to have a secret past behind them. For years they have been living by moving around through the states, almost nomadically because of Mia’s job as an artist. Before they finally settled down at one of Richardson’s rental houses in Shaker Heights.

“Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn’t, you might burn the world to the ground.”

–     page 161

Then there’s the Richardson family itself. Consists of the parents and four of their teenage children: Lexie, Moody, Trip, and Izzy. This family has lived in Shaker Heights for so long until they are used to the organized life of it. So four of their children always got to live up to these set of rules on what to do and what not to do in life. Well, all except Lizzy, who always tries to follow her own intuition and will.

This dynamics between the free-spirited Warrens and the strict Richardsons becomes the focal point of the story. From time to time they started to understand each other’s life through mutual confusion and interest to know more about each other.

“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”

– page 271

It is presumably hard to explain all of the problems being told in ‘Little Fires Everywhere’. However in my opinion, the main things this book has successfully depicts are the problems of interracial adoption and motherhood. There’s always the ongoing debate about this adoption case of whether a baby should be raised by a mother who cares for her and able to buy all her needs who’s racially different, or by her biological mother who’s still financially unstable.

With the Warrens and Richardsons having a slight conflict about this motherhood problem, it became interesting when Pearl started to have different views with Mia about everything in life because of her interactions with the Richardson. Resulting in a few misunderstandings between them. And when Izzy started to find comfort in Mia way more than she found in her own mother.

Other than the well-written conflicts, I love the fact that the character’s personality actually feels like a real person due to the complexity of their mindset. To an extent, it made me as a reader to feel empathy towards all of them, though some of their actions or choices might be seen as incorrect in society.

But at the same time, I do understand why some readers like Celeste Ng’s previous book better than this one. With a story this complicated, the plot range is sometimes too wide to grasp optimally. Not to mention one or two stereotypical tropes that appear in the story.

Nevertheless, I would still recommend ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ if you’re looking for a domestic drama story filled with great character development. A nice slow burn novel for some of you who might, as Celeste Ng said, ‘out on their own paths, setting little fires’.

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