Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours 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 teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
I finally broke out of the WWII lit cycle I was in…a bit too many of those back to back and I needed a palate cleanser. Enter Little Fires Everywhere, which had been on my hold list at my library for quite a while (and my turn came up for this title as well as two others all at the same time….reading hustle!).
This novel starts out with a line that could be the start of a great mystery or thriller, but this is not that kind of story. It’s a slow-moving, in depth character study of human nature and the complexities of relationship dynamics. It shows how people are apt to rationalize and justify crossing a moral line to suit their purposes. Personally, I really enjoy these types of books, and even though they aren’t alike in content, I kept thinking that Ms. Ng’s talent for writing characters was on par with Liane Moriarty, one of my favorite authors. They both are extremely talented at understanding the nuances of human nature and writing characters that you really feel like you know, they are so real to you because you can see yourself or others you know in these characters. They are well-drawn and thought out.
The pacing, as I mentioned, is slow, but fascinating, as you get these glimpses of a character’s personal story and what makes them tick. I have to admit, that even though I rarely enjoyed or went to my college entry level psych class, I really enjoy books like these that delve into a person’s psyche. You have Elena Richardson, who sees the world as black and white, with a certain child-like naiveté that causes her to react with child-like emotions to what she perceives as fair or unfair moves in the game of life. In Elena, we see a certain amount of blindness to things around her, because she chooses to believe that if she follows the rules, then there wouldn’t be tragedy or heartbreak, only happiness. It’s exactly the way I remember thinking as a child myself…until you grow and learn that life isn’t fair, and it isn’t black and white…it’s all shades of grey.
But the problem with rules, he reflected, was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time there were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure which side of the line you stood on.
Or Lexi, who states that she’s color blind because she’s dating a black kid from school. The issue of race was brought up subtly and done very well…and I learned a lot from this novel about what “color blind” actually means. It’s so much more far reaching than just having a couple black friends. It’s acknowledging that color blindness doesn’t mean that you don’t see color, that color doesn’t matter, because it does. Color blindness is more about our white privilege blinding us to the way people of color perceive things. It’s an ignorance that has been perpetuated throughout hundreds of years, that while we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.
Mostly, this book for me is about all the shades of grey and just how important it really is to be kind to people, not because you are banking good deeds for future favors, but purely for the sake that we are all human and deserving of patience and understanding. But it’s also about starting over, picking yourself up and carrying on when you aren’t sure you can.
Like after a prairie fire….It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow.
If I had to pick at something, it would be some of the punctuation and syntax with sentence structure, but that’s just my grammar junkie self popping up.
All in all, a very engrossing read and thoroughly enjoyable, particularly if you like psychology and exploring what makes people tick.
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