Little Fires Everywhere (2017) by Celeste Ng is a book set in Shaker Heights, Ohio – the author’s hometown. I read her first novel, Everything I Never Told You, and thus expected to like this one. Well, my expectations were exceeded. This was much better than her first novel!
“She recognized a kindred spirit, a similar subversive spark to the one she often felt flaring inside her.”
This book snuck up on me. The beginning was slow and humdrum. At one point though, I found that I suddenly could not put it down!
I related to all of the characters, except maybe Trip. Pearl, who absorbs books as if they were air, Moody who daydreams about living a la Kerouac and writing poems, Mrs. Richardson who follows the rules and Mia with her wild hair.
“She could see the similarities between these two lonely children, even more clearly than they could: the same sensitive personalities lurking inside both of them, the same bookish wisdom layered over a deep naiveté”
What the book is about and what the book means are two different things. Ng writes SO subtly that you can either take this as a straightforward drama set in suburbia or you can take it as a poignant and insightful piece on race, identity, motherhood, classism, love, teenage angst, adult regret, belonging, family, community, conformity, immigration, poverty and more. I obviously took it as the latter. To me, this book was a deep and murky pond whose still surface belies its hidden depths.
“She did not know how to put everything she felt into words”
I don’t know if I’m properly explaining myself here, but for example, the rich white landowner is renting her house out at a lower price to help people who are down on their luck. But she wants to make sure she gets the right type of tenant, someone who will properly appreciate what she’s done. “A kind person to whom she could do a kind turn, and who would appreciate her kindness”. How altruistic are we when we do what we think are good deeds. This is what this book made me think of, how self-righteous our charitable acts are. We feel smug and good about ourselves when we do something for someone else that really didn’t take much effort on our parts.
“Passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing, it so easily went out of control.”
The biggest conflict in this book is between passion and love VS stability and comfort. Ng shows us both the beauty in planning and in chaos.
The biggest lesson it teaches is how life is about searching for someone who understands you. It’s about searching for meaning, forging connections, finding beauty. It’s about loss.
The biggest question it poses is what is motherhood: biology or love? Both sides of this dilemma are argued throughout the novel. With the morals of the reader being tested along with the residents of Shaker Heights.
This novel, while being suburban, quotidian, and realistic, presents us with the thousands of ways in which hearts can be broken – and mended.
I haven’t much more to say except that I’m an emotional reader and this book hit me right in the heart. I loved it, I loved being in this world and hiding out in the characters’ minds. I think Ng did an excellent job in crafting this book and I will now leave you with a list of my favourite quotes.
“This wayward, wild, fiery girl.”
“I don’t have a plan, I’m afraid… but then, no one really does, no matter what they say.”
“Beauty rolled off her in waves, like heat.”
“The photos stirred feelings she couldn’t quite frame in words, and this, she decided, must mean they were true works of art.”
“A lifetime of practical and comfortable considerations settled atop the spark inside of her like a thick, heavy blanket.”
“There was only one thing to do, then. She curled up on the bed, feeling small and pink and tender as a cocktail shrimp, and let her fantasy go, like a balloon soaring into the sky until it burst. ”
“Everything was worth looking at more closely.”
“You’ll always be sad about this… But it doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice. It’s just something that you have to carry.”
“He felt as if he’d dived into a deep, clear lake and discovered it was a shallow, knee-deep pond. What did you do? Well, you stood up. You rinsed your mud-caked knees and pulled your feet out of the muck. And you were more cautious after that. You knew, from then on, that the world was a smaller place than you’d expected.”
“But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow… People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.”