LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE
Written by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Press, September 12, 2017
My star rating – 2 stars
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.
This might end up being a very rant-like review. It’s a little hard not to get passionate while reviewing a book like this as it’s completely subjective. We have a book that’s very character driven, and more focused on a “slice of life” scenario opposed to a solid plot. And when almost every character within her books is morally grey, things can get taken differently from person to person. If you were to have 20 people read this, not a single person would agree 100% with another.
When I started this book I was nervous. I read her other book, Everything I Never Told You, and really didn’t like it. Plain and simple, this author just isn’t for me which is REALLY SAD! The first half of this book I LOVED! I really enjoy her writing style. It’s so fluid and detailed without bogging you down. Her pacing is consistent and she always finds a way to propel you forward and make you want more. I also love how she formats her books. We begin with a catastrophic event then take a step back to the beginning of the story and work our way forward to that event.
And her character development and exploration is incredible. I mean, insane. She relates every tiny piece of their personality back to a story, she weaves in and out of current time and stories of their past, and links their lives together in a way that makes you understand how they are shaped to be the person they are today. Technically, this book should have been 5 stars due to the fact that I love character driven stories, good character development, and slice of life scenarios. But it just didn’t work.
Remember how I said that this book is subjective and her characters are morally grey? That’s where it goes so very wrong for me. The first half of the book was amazing but then, as the characters lives are unveiled and we learn their secrets, I found myself annoyed and lost all interest in the characters completely. I think that it’s the authors intention to make the characters this way. She did the same thing in Everything I Never Told You. She presents us with choices the characters made in such a way that it’s up to you as the reader to decide which side of the line you fall on. For me, the characters were just shitty people making shitty selfish decisions that they thought they were “for the best”. In my opinion it was only for the best for themselves and not for everyone as a whole.
To explain myself, I’m jumping into spoiler territory. I mean BIG spoilers. It will ruin one of the biggest reveals….. Please, if you intend on reading this book OR watching the show, DO NOT read the next paragraph. You’ve been warned!!!!!
So here’s the thing. Mia is an independent and strong willed woman. She’s a super talented artist/photographer and gets into a good art school. When she loses her scholarship, she is scrounging for money to continue with school. So when she’s approached by a man and offered $10,000 to be a surrogate and give them a child, she takes it. A legally binding contract is drawn up before conception and she inseminates herself using the mans sperm and a turkey baster (no joke) because IVF wasn’t something readily accessible in the early 80’s. But then, as she’s 6 months along, she decides that she can’t give the baby up so she writes a note to the would be parents saying that she lost the baby, refunds them the money and gives back items they gave her, she runs away across the country, changes her name, and her and her newborn live gypsy style and on the run. Sorry but I just can’t agree with this in ANY WAY. She was under a legal contract BEFORE conception so that child was never hers. A friend of mine was a surrogate and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. They have a bond together, but she had the baby knowing it was never hers. Then something happened towards the end of the book that made my BLOOD BOIL!!!!!!!! Mia’s secret is found out and she picks up and leaves town yet again. Her daughter mentioned that her friend, who had a strong bond with Mia, wanted to go with them, and suggested that they take her with them. Mia’s response: “Honey, she’s 15. There are rules against that” ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME????? You, the very woman who signed a legally binding contract that stated the child you were about to carry belonged to another couple, who then took off, changed her name, and lied about the child’s very existence, is only NOW worried about rules and laws?? Piss off woman.
If you’re looking to read this book to critique and analyze it, I personally think that the reason the author wrote this book was to have a conversation about “what makes a mother”. More specifically even, what makes a good mother? Is it the genes and blood that mother and child share? Is love, dedication, and understanding enough? Is it a mix of either of those things along with material possessions and opportunities for their future? Throughout the book we meet quite a few different mothers, all of who are in very different places in their lives and are raising their kids in very different ways. Is one way more incorrect than another? As much as I do appreciate the conversation, and as much as I love the fact that it sheds light that there’s no right way to parent, it’s just the fact that some of the decisions that the characters made were so selfish and, in more than one occasion illegal, I couldn’t get behind this book AT ALL. Let’s continue to have this conversation, just with characters that aren’t doing it illegally and aren’t assholes…..
So yeah. As much as I think this authors talent to write characters is outstanding, the characters just aren’t people I can relate to or bring myself to care about. Not all of them! Definitely not all of them. But it’s just enough to piss me off to the point where I feel it ruins the story and I ended up not enjoying the reading experience towards the end. I know that there are some people out there that will love this. And I can see why. That’s why this world is beautiful. We all see different things in different lights. Difference in opinion is beautiful. But characters in a contemporary setting that make selfish asshole decisions that hurt others….. that’s a big nope for me.
So there’s my ranting unpopular opinions lol. I feel like i’m honestly the only one out there who doesn’t like this authors books. But I just can’t. Please – someone out there let me know i’m not alone?? lol
Until next time, happy reading!