After watching the series Little Fires Everywhere on Hulu (based on the novel by Celeste Ng), I knew I had to read the book. Usually I don’t go in this order. If I know something is based on a book, I make sure to read it first but I figure I’d try something new. The series was amazing. Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon are amazing. If you haven’t seen it yet, do so. The book, on the other hand, was half exactly what I was expecting and half a complete surprise.
First, what I liked about the novel was the writing style. It is a complete opposite of how I write, so it was interesting to see a different approach to storytelling. It’s told in third person, allowing the reader into the heads of not only the two main characters but their family members as well. A lot of times when writers do this, it can feel a bit chaotic but Ng pulled off switching narratives with such grace. It was the most natural flow of view points I’ve ever read. Like all the characters were running a marathon, passing the baton off to one another seamlessly. It was impressive.
The parallels are anothing thing I admired about the plot. I’ll attempt to explain without spoilers, but Mia and Bebe’s story lines are so complex and similar. They really make you sit back and contemplate morality. What is right? What actions are truly justified? What makes a parent and what determines who is a good parent? Good books are ones that make you think, and this one definitely does that. As a mother, parts of this narrative struck really close to home. Sympathy for a character who suffered from half a dozen miscarriages turns to adoption only to have that threatened as well. The love that you feel for your children running so deep in your veins and having to accept the distance as they get older. The space they need to become their own person cracks your soul because cuddling them as infants becomes such a safe haven that slowly gets taken away. Safe havens, another parallel in the novel that isn’t what it seems on the outside.
The town the novel is based, Shaker Heights, stuck out to me. Clashing of the social classes is nothing new, but it’s a theme in stories that I have always found very intriguing. How can someone feel they are more superior than someone else based on the square footage of their home? It’s something Ng did on purpose. No one can expose a town for what it truly is than someone who grew up there. Shaker Heights looks pristine on the outside. Progressive, idealistic, clean and crisp. In reality, it suffers the same issues that every other town in America does. Exclusiveness. Pretentious. White, very white. Although other races do reside in the town, it’s very much viewed as a privilege by many community members. “We don’t see color.” Is a common quote that comes up many, many times. It opens up a question that many people are pondering on today, what does not seeing color actually mean and what’s wrong with seeing people for who they are? Is seeing color the problem or is treating someone differently because of it the actual issue? It’s an important conversation and Ng does a fabulous job demonstrating the conflict some of her characters face with this particular topic.
All in all, it’s definitely a story I recommend, especially if you’ve seen the show. There are so many differences between the show and the book, naturally, but many of the changes I wonder why they did so. Other than attempting to make the show more edgy and dramatic, I didn’t see a need. Especially the ending. Completely changing who actually sets the fire that is introduced in the beginning of the novel really threw me off. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, yeah?