Rating: 3/5 stars
Length: 338 pages
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
Publication date: September 12, 2017
“… She knew she couldn’t handle things.” Mia scribbled a hasty note in the corner of her drawing. “The question is whether things are still the same. Whether she should get another chance.”
“And do you think she should?”
Mia did not answer for a moment. Then she said, “Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then, you just have to carry them with you.”
Elena Richardson embodies the rule following nature of Shaker Heights, a progressive suburb of Cleveland. When Mia Warren – enigmatic artist and single mother to a teenage girl – rents a house from the Richardsons, all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo. When an old family friend attempts to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that drastically devised the town and leaves Elena and Mia on opposite sides of the divide.
Asian Readathon Challenges Met:
1. Read a book written by an Asian author: Ng is of Chinese decent.
4. Read a book recommended by an Asian: as this was the group book of the Readathon, it was suggested by Cindy in her 2020 Asian Readathon announcement video.
5. *OPTIONAL* Read “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng and participate in the 7#LittleFiresReadalong and #LittleFiresWatchalong (more information below)
First and foremost, I learned that this book was not for me. I can understand its merit, but it is not the kind of book that I find myself falling into. It might be because Contemporary books aren’t my usual go to that I had a harder time connecting with this story, but I find myself pulling away from this idea as I’ve read Contemporary books that I’ve fallen in love with.
The characters felt real enough and the problems they faced were serious, yet I still didn’t find myself falling in love with the world or the story. I could empathize with the events going on but I never felt pulled into the drama or a real tug on my heart strings.
That being said, I can completely understand why some people might love this story. While I easily fall head first into lands of magic and dragons, others find comfort in things more realistic. Closer to what they expect from real life. This story held notes of realism and dealt with issues that still exist today, roughly 20-30 years after the time this book was written in.
I find it hard to explain why I felt so detached from this story without going into spoilers, so I’ll leave the spoiler free section here. If you want to read my in depth feelings about the story, continue on to the spoiler section below.
Has anybody watched the movie Don’t Breathe? If you haven’t: Don’t. It’s not a good movie. In fact, it has one of the grossest scenes I’ve ever watched in my life. I’m about to detail that scene and make a comparison with a scene in Little Fires Everywhere, so if you don’t want to be grossed out, I highly recommend you not read the next two paragraphs. The review focuses solely on the events of the book after this, so don’t worry that the grossness will carry through. I’ve changed the font to green to make it clear where the grossness is contained. Proceed at your own risk.
In Don’t Breathe, three delinquents break into the home of a blind veteran to rob him. Near the end of the movie, it’s discovered that his daughter was killed in a hit and run and the offender got off with a slap on the wrist. In retribution, this guy kidnaps the perpetrator and forces her to birth him a new child to replace the one he’s lost. Being blind, he accidentally shoots and kills this woman while trying to kill the people that broke into his place. He ends up capturing the female thief and tells her he’ll let her go… in 9 months after she’s replaced the child that just died in the first woman’s womb. He ties her up and attempts to inject his semen into her with a turkey baster. The thief ends up getting away, but not before shoving the turkey baster down the blind guy’s throat and squirting.
If you’ve read Little Fires Everywhere, you might know where I’m going with this. Mia, trying to find the funds to continue her schooling, ends up agreeing to help conceive a child for a couple who can’t have kids themselves. How do they do this? Why, with a turkey baster. Yes I understand that it’s an actual method of at home insemination method, but I can’t get that scene from Don’t Breathe out of my mind. So now, whenever I think of Mia carrying Pearl, I imagine that almost-rape-by-turkey-baster scene. Disgusting.
Although Little Fires Everywhere reminds me of one of the grossest scenes of all time, this is not the reason I rated the book as I did. In fact, my rating fluctuated between a 2 and 3 star throughout my whole read through of the story. The biggest reason that I decided to give the book a 3 star rating is that the AudioBook version of this story was so well done. Jennifer Lim does a fantastic job at making the story come to life as much as it did. The book just wasn’t for me.
I found the book to be pretty mundane and boring. I found myself zoning out a lot throughout this book, having to remind myself that I was listening to a tale and should probably pay attention to it – at least a little bit. I have to admit, I hadn’t had that issue with AudioBooks before Little Fires Everywhere. Yet I listened through to the end, hoping that it would pick up and I’d find myself enjoying it. It didn’t happen, but I can see why some people would enjoy this read – and the show that was based off of it.
One part of the story that I did enjoy was the way it handled the issues of race within this suburban place. It wasn’t an issue easily brushed over, tossed out for the reader to think there was a discussion but brushed aside with ease. No, Ng made it clear that this is a serious issue that plagues America to this day. Yes this tale is set in the late 1990s, but it’s written in such a way that it’s clear these issues still persist. It’s still a worry that a Chinese baby taken in by a white couple will lose her heritage even if they try to share it with the child. This heritage isn’t theirs, even with the help of other Chinese people this child won’t be fully immersed in their Chinese heritage.
However, I found the twists in this story to be predictable. While it’s clear from the beginning that Izzy is the one that set fire to their house, the why was also clear to me from the start. She didn’t fit in with her family – they didn’t make her feel like they belonged, didn’t even really try to. When the only person she ever really cared about was ripped from her, it’s no surprise that she would react the way that she did.
Also, Mia’s reaction to the child stolen from her mother was too intense to mean anything other than it did. Yes she felt for her friend, but her reaction was too personal. While Mia didn’t flat out steal Pearl from her parents, it was clear from the moment that Pearl asked if she was wanted that Mia was hiding her from at least someone. I thought at least Mia had fostered Pearl and the parents wanted her back so she ran, but the truth wasn’t too far off.
If you enjoyed this read, I would love to hear what it was about the book that you enjoyed. I think I can see the appeal some might find in the read, but I don’t see it for myself. I’d love to hear others’ opinions on this tale.