Little Fires Everywhere: A Review (of sorts)

It has been a while since I connected so deeply to a book.

34273236A 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.

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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!

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One of Us Is Lying: A Review (of sorts)

Imagine this:

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plus this:

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but subtract the carefree fun of this:

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and that’s what you get when you read this:

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Karen M. McManus’s One of Us Is Lying is classic whodunit with a modern twist.  It centers around 5 teenagers who are sent to detention, only to have one of them murdered while they are there.  Just like 1985’s The Breakfast Club, we have an eclectic group of students: the athlete, the brains, the criminal, the social outcast, and the beauty.  All are stereotypical on the surface, but each one becomes much more complex as the story unfolds.

Told via alternate perspectives from the 4 remaining suspects, the reader is propelled into their separate–and now intertwined–worlds where there is plenty of speculation on all accounts about who committed the crime.

Full disclosure: I did have it figured out from the beginning.  I didn’t want to call it, but I am the same person who leaned into my husband about 1/2 way through The Sixth Sense and told him that dude was dead.  He has never forgiven me.  What can I say: I see dead people.

My sleuthy Sherlockian skills aside, I thought that if I ended up being right about the killer, the story would end up feeling like it fell short.  But I was wrong about that.  McManus does a great job building doubt for several characters throughout the story, so I did start to question my theory a few times.

Overall, this is a fun read, and I recommend it.  Since I don’t read as much YA anymore, I enjoyed stepping back into it, if only for a little while.

Also, I think John Hughes would have been proud.  Here: enjoy this for a minute.

 

Do Not Become Alarmed: A Review (of sorts)

I haven’t posted in a while, but this read was too good not to give a quick shout out.  The premise of this fiction (Thank God it’s fiction!) is relatable to all parents who have taken their children on vacation and have feared the worst would happen: losing your child(ren) in an unfamiliar area.  Are they dead?  Alive?  Trafficked?  Held hostage?

The panic.  The stress.  The absolute loss of control.  It’s terrifying.33155774

Whether Nora and Liv’s fears were realized in the book, I’ll leave for you to discover.  It won’t take you long; though the book is 342 pages, the chapters are short and the story progresses with great speed and alternate points of view.

Even though it’s a quick read, this book has heft and depth.  There are a lot of complexities with the characters, both internal and external, and the reader really has an opportunity to feel as they do, and all of them are relatable, whether it’s Neomi, a South American 10 year old who is trying to make it across the US border to be with her illegal-immigrant parents in NY; Marcus, an 11-year old map enthusiast with autism; or 40-something Nora, a stay at home mom and wife of a successful actor.

The character development is what I enjoyed most.  One of the book’s accomplishments is to tell the story in such a way that the reader may not realize how complex the plot is until he steps back and evaluates how the characters are responding to what is happening to them.

I still have a lot I could write about from the books that I’ve loved most this year (Exit West by Hamid and Word by Word by Stamper have been among my faves.).  Maybe stay tuned for more on those and more.  I’ll get back to writing more now that summer has officially begun.

Book Winks

Call me a lit nerd, but I sort of love it when this happens:

I’m reading along, minding my own business, and then, in some cosmic literary force, my stars align and fiction reaches out to hold hands with reality.  It’s an act of fate that says, “Yes, you’re reading the right book at the right time.”  Since it doesn’t happen often, it’s pretty freaking amazing when it does.

IMG_5112I’ll explain…

I finished a book today, but I didn’t have a book hangover this time (thank god), so I wanted to read something else right away.  I picked up a few novels from my nightstand and started browsing to select just the right one, but I wasn’t really feeling any of them.  So I asked my best friend what she was reading and was happy to learn that she was reading a YA novel, Mosquitoland by David Arnold, which was already on my mountainous to-be-read-shelf.  I cracked her open, and pretty much right away, this happened (See pic.).

Sure, most people will think it’s no big deal and that it’s just a coincidence.  BUT IT’S LABOR DAY EVE for goodness sake, and don’t even try to pretend that it’s not freaking cool!  You can’t take this from me!

This has happened before.  In the weeks after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I, like most of America, was wrapped up in the news coverage of this horrific, senseless shooting, and I needed to take. a. step. away. from. CNN.  I casually picked up Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her, and almost immediately I came across the line:

“Magda, is ‘rocking a dope Ochun-colored bikini that her girls helped her pick out so she could torture me, and I’m in these old ruined trunks that say ‘Sandy Hook Forever!’”  

Are you kidding me?  I couldn’t believe it: a book that had been published before the shooting, and yet even in my attempts at a quiet escape from reality and the news, the written words still found their screaming way to my ears.  Not such a great thing at the time, but still an interesting coincidence.

There’s more…

About a year and a half ago, as I was reading The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, I found myself immersed in the historical-fictional account of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  I had never heard of this tragedy before, so I set the book aside and Googled it, only to learn that I was reading about it on the very anniversary of the fire, March 25.  Of all the books in the world to read, and of all of the days of the year they could be read, and of all the days one could be reading a particular part of a certain book, I was reading about that particular event in history on the very day it had occurred 103 years earlier.  What are the freaking odds?  That’s just magic, I don’t care what you say.

So what?  What could these instances mean?  Carl Jung called these meaningful coincidences “synchronicities.”  His theory actually goes much deeper than my book-related coincidences, but it’s definitely worthy of mention, and the essence is pretty much the same.

My mom is pretty spiritual, and she has told me about these little messages that she believes God sends to her in times of need.  She calls them “God Winks.”  She even asks God to send people she loves these little signs or messages.  She will tell me, “I prayed that God would give you a little God Wink today.”  She’s so sincere and sweet, and man, I love that about her.

But, while I don’t necessarily think it’s God sending me messages through my Book Winks and I don’t think my meaningful coincidences go as deep as Jung’s Synchronicities, I certainly do think that sometimes these coincidences are pretty spectacular, so in the words of John Green’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson, “It’s hard to believe in coincidence, but it’s even harder to believe in anything else.” Continue reading