It has been a while since I connected so deeply to a book.
A novel with strong female characters, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere has something to say for most American women, especially American women who were teenagers in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, teenage girls who ultimately become mothers and continue the generational spiral as it loops throughout time.
For me, I was magnetized to every character, and if you have read any of my book reviews, you’d know, dear reader, how much I love a character-driven novel. LFE did not disappoint in the characterization department. I wish I had read this for book club, for I am dying to talk about this one with other people. I have many questions that I’d love to mull over with someone, but since I don’t have anyone, I’ll pose them here below.
When I read about Mia, the enigmatic, vagabond mother, I pictured her as me: first, as a child misunderstood; then, as a teen figuring it out, introverted, shy, passionate; last, as a mother devoted to her child. But she is much more than that. She has history, secrets; she has loved and lost and depended on no one but herself. Mia’s arc delicately progresses yet the effect she has on others is extraordinary. She is the kindling that starts those little fires everywhere. But is she to blame for all the chaos?
When I read about Pearl, the teenage girl yearning for acceptance and connection, I pictured her as me. I remembered the improvised living spaces of my highly mobile childhood, each city a new start, yet never quite able to begin before we left again. Relationships were reserved for family only, only because we were never any place long enough to make connections any deeper than acquaintance-status. Pearl wasn’t the most likable character, yet she was the one I see as most like me. She showed me some things about myself that I need to inspect further.
When I read about Mrs. Richardson, the idyllic, superficial, suburban mother, I pictured her as me. She’s a woman who wants the best for her family, who strives to hold her family together, if for nothing but the illusion. Lost in the quest for social status, she is completely out of touch with her children. Additionally, she once had a fierce passion for activism that now lies mostly dormant. What is life if not for passion and meaningful relationships? Mrs. Richardson has completely missed the mark.
When I read about Mrs. McCollough, the hopeful adoptive parent of a Chinese baby, I pictured her as me. Though I never suffered through the trials of a difficult conception, I know what it feels like to love a child so much and try to do right by them, yet the best intentions often end up lacking. There’s always someone informing you on what to do and how to do it better than you currently are, and often times, that advice is under appreciated or defiantly rejected. A question I as myself as I reflect about Mrs. McCollough’s story line is what makes someone a mother? Is it biological? Love? Acceptance? Inclusion? Selflessness?
Of course, the novel isn’t just about American women, it features a host of other characters such as Chinese women, as well as Chinese and American men. There is a thread of racism in this novel, if not intentional by the characters, perhaps a little unintentional. Can one be unintentionally racist? I wonder. Maybe unintentional racism isn’t the same as delusion; maybe it’s simple ignorance. Maybe it’s about not valuing a different culture yet not devaluing it either. Does that even make sense? Sigh.
When I read about Bebe, the Chinese mother determined to regain custody of her child, I pictured her as me. I empathized with her as she struggled to deal with the aftermath of her decision. If I had to do something unimaginable in order to help my child, what lengths would I go to in order to right the circumstance at a later time? Who gets to judge the “righting” of my “wrong”?
This novel journeys through uncomfortable topics with no real suggestion about how to feel about them. It’s truly left up to the reader. LFE’s characters are flawed yet redeemable, just like real life people are. Most readers will connect with at least one of these strong characters, if not all of them, just as I did. If you want a thought-provoking novel, pick this one up.
I admit that the story seemed slow-going at first, but just as embers will lie smoldering for a long time, it only takes a tiny breeze to start the fire blazing.
This was my first book to complete in 2018, and what a strong one to have out the gate! I’m excited to take you all on my reading journey throughout the year!