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Saturday, February 03, 2018

Depressing Family Drama Rich in Discussion-Worthy Topics

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Like Shaker Heights—the Ohio community in which she resides—Elena Richardson has structured her life with master-planned precision and care.  Predictably, she's now living the dream as a suburban housewife with a luxurious home, a successful husband, and four (almost) picture-perfect children.  Her part-time job as a reporter for the second-best newspaper in Shaker Heights gives her something to do with her spare hours, while charity work helps her feel altruistic and superior.  Elena craves order, plays by the rules, and expects everyone else in her affluent community to do the same.

The arrival of Mia Warren, a 36-year-old artist and single mother of 15-year-old Pearl, shakes up the neighborhood almost immediately.  Elena takes in the impulsive, free-spirited nomad, allowing her to live in the Richardsons' rental home.  She even hires Mia as a housekeeper, a job Mia accepts mostly so she can keep an eye on Pearl, who's drawn both to the structure and tidiness of the Richardson home and to Elena's charming teenage son Trip.  Unpredictable Izzy Richardson is the opposite.  She prefers to hang out in the casual, laid-back atmosphere of the Warrens' apartment.  As the lives of the children become more and more enmeshed, a troubling disquiet creeps over Elena's well-ordered life.

Things come to a head when a Shaker Heights couple, long-time friends of the Richardsons, adopt a Chinese baby.  The birth mother, a poor, desperate friend of Mia's, is fighting to get her child back.  As the situation escalates and people choose sides in the ensuing conflict, Elena watches her family, her community, and the shiny veneer on her seemingly perfect life crumble in shocking ways.  As Elena soon learns, behind the doors in her gleaming, privileged community—even in her own idyllic home—there are little fires burning everywhere.

Little Fires Everywhere, a sophomore novel by Celeste Ng, offers a sharp examination of some big issues—classism, racism, transracial adoption, privilege, entitlement, and what it means to be a good parent.  Book clubs will likely drool over its discussion-rich possibilities.  I've seen a plethora of rave reviews for Ng's second bestseller, but once again, I find myself a bit underwhelmed by her work.  Yes, Little Fires Everywhere offers up some interesting observations, but it's also peopled with a cast of unlikable characters and burdened with a plot that creeps along very slowly and comes to, what I feel, is a deeply unsatisfying conclusion.  Overall, the novel is just dreary and depressing.  Compelling, yes, but not a read I think of as overly engrossing or laudable.  For me, the book is just okay.  I felt the same way about Everything I Never Told You, so maybe Ng just isn't an author with whom I click.  Oh well.


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (a half dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder expletives), sexual content, and depictions of illegal drug use and underage drinking

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Little Fires Everywhere from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.


  1. I remember you commenting on my review of this book and saying pretty much what you said here. I agree that this author might not be a good match for you. I agree that the characters are certainly hard to like in many ways. Oddly, I did like most of them or at least came to like them enough. I did not like Elena very much. She seemed very manipulative.

  2. Oh my goodness, bloggers and readers are loving this book, but I am not jumping to read it. I'm not sure why.

  3. I found a pristine copy of this at a thrift store so one day I’ll be reading it but I’ll remember to keep my expectations low. Most people seem to love it but I’m usually the odd one out.

  4. I felt the same way about her first book. She might not be a good fit for me, either, for the same reasons.


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