Hello Fellow Readers,
I picked this one up following “Everything I Never Told You,” which kept me gripped and turning pages until completing it in three days. This one did not fail to deliver the same effect. Celeste Ng excels on so many planes, from her prose to maintaining multiple, affecting storylines, to occupying opposing and contrasting schools of thought with a deft, thought-provoking hand.
In Little Fires, we have two distinct families. One, the picture-perfect, white bread, ever poised, and skating effortlessly through life Richardson family. They play by the rules, are all about their unflappable appearances, and are rather shallow, thus tending to avoid the confronting or consideration of anything complex, deep, or complicated. Their life is ordered, conventional, and very much within the lines. Their lives are easy, simple, and that’s the way they like it.
Then we have the Warren family, Mia and her daughter, Pearl. Mia is an artist, a person who has chosen to pursue both her talent and what sets her heart alight. She does not maintain a regular job or have a distinct career trajectory. Instead, she works random, odd, temporary jobs where additional income is needed, and otherwise, focuses on making art which is meaningful to her. Mia and Pearl live a life that is open, adventurous, uncertain, daring, and unconventional. They rarely see anything as black and white, and instead, see most life situations as complex, laden with nuance, and many varying shades of gray.
Pearl Warren is drawn to the Richardsons like a moth to a flame, or like people tend to be toward staring, hypnotized at the flames of a fire. She is impressed and awed by their easy confidence, the plush comfort of their lives, the way their life is ordered.
She and the Richardson’s son, Moody, became incredibly close friends. Their connection one in which they finish each other’s sentences and spend most of their waking minutes together. Pearl is intimidated and intrigued by Lexie, their flippant, self-possessed (and somewhat manipulative, selfish) daughter. And finally, she finds herself majorly crushing on their eldest son, Trip, the stereotypical shallow, good looking, oozing with confidence and carelessness jock.
The Richardson’s find themselves drawn to Mia and Pearl. Two of the children, Lexie and their youngest daughter, Izzy (outspoken, strong, radical, sometimes impulsive and foolhardy, and totally badass) have powerful, heart-opening experiences with Mia, which change their perspective on her and as a result, shift their impression of even their own mother.
They come to see that maybe black and white don’t explain or reason away most of human life. That things are rarely cut and dry. And that sometimes, the answer isn’t what the rules might seem to automatically dictate or imply. In Mia, they find a person who truly sees them. Not just as children, but as people, with their own personalities, hearts, and complexities.
Mia is not someone who needs to reason and pack away challenges into a neat little box, complete with a bow atop in order to avoid examining the potentially discomforting contents within. Instead, she looks the discomforts and challenges of life right in the face. The Richardson children are struck by this, as it’s unlike any approach they’ve experienced.
Izzy in particular, the youngest daughter of the Richardson family, and the one who is frequently treated with dismissal, misunderstanding, condemnation, and disinterest by her family, forms as especially strong connection and draw to Mia. Because Izzy refuses to play by the rules, to sit down and smile sweetly, to be quiet, her family labels her “crazy.” Though she is at times majorly over the top, her heart is clearly in the right place. She is a courageous, impassioned, honest young woman who already has the guts to stand for what she believes in.
Pearl develops complicated relationships with both Richardson sons, Moody and Trip. There are several tender, beautiful scenes, and feelings that stem from these connections between the three.
Amidst all this though, a central plotline occurs when a family friend of the Richardson’s adopts a Chinese baby. Several months following the adoption, her biological mom comes back into the picture, wanting her daughter back.
The dueling narratives we get from both sides, by both the biological mother and the new adopted mother, are heart-wrenching and empathy inducing. As the reader, we realize, there is no right answer here. Instead, it’s a scenario laden with shades of gray. Mia and Elena (Mrs. Richardson) are put on opposing sides when the controversy arises. This resulting in significant climax and dramas between all of the central characters.
To me, this book, in many ways, is a study on perception and empathy. It’s easy, from the outside looking in, to judge another. To assume they are “selfish,” “bad,” “ill-intended,” “dishonest,” you name it. And yet, when we learn the details of that other person’s perspective, when able to see into their hearts, learn the nuances of their intent and emotions, this can be an eye-opening game changer.
That is one of the central themes and lessons of this book.
I loved this story. All the storylines were engrossing. The prose is evocative and lyrical. The character development is superb. It’s a fantastic summer read, one that I highly recommend.