Monday, December 11, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere

Title:  Little Fires Everywhere
Author:  Celeste Ng
Publication Information:  Penguin Press. 2017. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0735224293 / 978-0735224292

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking bout it that summer:  how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down."

Favorite Quote:  "To a parent, your child wasn't just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. You could see it every time you looked at her:  layered in her face was the baby she'd been and the child she'd become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a #-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get it. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that pace again."

Little Fires Everywhere is the story of the Richardsons, a well-to-do family leading a schedule, planned life in the planned neighborhood of Shaker Heights in Cleveland. He's a lawyer; she's a journalists. Their four children are growing up, knowing only their comfortable world. Their regulated life is shaken up by the arrival of a new tenant Mia, someone Mrs. Richardson views as a bohemian artist. Along with Mia comes her daughter Pearl. Lives start to intertwine as friendships and relationships flourish.

Conflict arises when the Richardson's friends are involved in a cross-cultural adoption and the birth mother re-enters the picture. The conflict is between the rights of a birth mother and adoptive parents. Sides are taken. Other secrets form and even more emerge in this heated debate.

In the context of this debate, this book is at its heart the story of mothers and daughters and of a big philosophical question. What makes a woman a mother? Is it the act of carrying a child for nine months? Is it the act of physically giving birth? Is it the unconditional love you pour into a child? Is it the tough love when you hold back, thinking it is the best for your child? Is it all of the above or any combination of the above or perhaps something all together?

There are many mothers in this book. One mother turns her back on her daughter because the daughter's choices. Women - girls - become mothers without understanding the impact that will carry through their entire lives. A woman finds herself mothering another's child. Another would trade all she has to have the chance to be a mother. The power of Celeste Ng's writing is the ability to elicit emotion and to pull the reader - at least this reader - into the hearts and minds of the characters. I walk away seeing all sides and feeling sympathy towards all sides. This does not mean I agree with all sides, but I can see them.

Oddly, for a book that takes on the topic of motherhood, much of the story revolves around the teenagers in the book with all the teenage angst that carries with it. High school parties, who likes who, sibling rivalry and other such topics at times give the book a young adult feel. However, parental readers beware for teenage sex does become the focal point of the story for a while. That and the main topic of motherhood make this definitely a book for adults.

For an emotionally engaging book, the ending to this book seems rushed. A big revelation is accepted with calm by a teenager. A truth about a daughter is accepted with equal calm by a mother. Real life considerations to other decisions are simply not there. Let's just say that certain aspects of the ending are quickly handled and thus become a little less believable. Regardless, practical considerations aside, I do still want to know what happens to these characters after the book ends. That too me is always a sign of a book that will stay with me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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