Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“You’ll always be sad about this,” Mia said softly. “But it doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice. It’s just something that you have to carry.” 

Little Fires Everywhere uses thorough character exploration to tell a story that is intricately and beautifully crafted. Much like the characters this is a story that is incredibly layered, with the use of relatively simplistic prose succeeding in exploring relevant issues without overshadowing them. The simplicity of this prose allows for heavy topics such as abortion, motherhood, politics, race and social expectations to be explored in a quiet yet sincere way, making for an incredibly impactful story.

Characterization is, without a doubt, one of the key elements to this story. This is essentially a character study, with each and every single one of the 10 main characters being given distinct voices and respective levels of humanity. This is something that can be seen best in the complex backgrounds that are represented with no clear bias, allowing for the readership to come to their own conclusions and form their own opinions on the characters present. Furthermore, these are characters that are so thoroughly developed that it takes dominance over the first half of the novel, with the plot not really kicking in until the second half. Subsequently the plot is slow yet the reader remains captivated, reflecting Ng’s skill for characterization that clearly drives the whole of her novel.

An issue that is particularly central to this novel is that of motherhood. Interesting dynamics are created in the first half of the novel, with the contrast between Izzy’s relationship with Elena and her relationship with Mia being particularly important. This is an early introduction into an idea explored heavily in the custody battle in the second half of the novel, this being the question of what makes a mother a mother. Is it simply biology or is it care and love? This issue is explored in such a way that it leaves not only the characters, but also the reader, torn. The point of view of each side is explored so thoroughly that it is hard for the reader to choose between siding with the biological mother fighting for her rights after a situation that wasn’t her fault or siding with the adoptive family that have come to love the child that may now be taken away from them. The disparic views regarding this are characterized best in the rift created between Mia and Elena as they take opposite sides. This is an issue that is explored consistently until the end of the novel, where we see the characters act in ways that leave the novel relatively open ended and allow the reader to draw their own conclusions regarding the actions taken.

A further issue that was explored well was that of race. Ng draws attention to the importance of seeing race and not claiming that you ‘cannot see color’. Through the custody battle ideas regarding the importance of celebrating one’s culture, especially a child’s, are made clear. This, alongside the exploration of motherhood, was one of my favorite aspects of the novel and was something I felt was explored sincerely and impactfully.

Furthermore, the setting of this novel was key to messages regarding conformity v. defying conventions put firmly in place. Shaker Heights is established immediately as being a suburb that prides itself on following rules and conventions. In contrast, those within this seemingly ordered and perfect suburb are revealed to be imperfect, with many breaking these conventions as the narrative progresses. This breaking of conventions causes further juxtaposition between the Richardsons and the Warrens, with a rift forming between the two due to Elena’s strict adherence to conventions and, in contrast, Mia’s willingness to break these conventions to defend what she feels is right with regards to the custody battle. This was implemented brilliantly, and was one of my favorite ways in which Ng explored the multitude of issues present in society even today.

Overall, this novel was a tender exploration of many relevant issues, and the way all of the events and characters had a purpose and were intricately linked made for a story that I absolutely loved. This is a very important and captivating novel, and is one that I would highly recommend!

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