For the last month or so, this book has taken the Bookstagram world by a storm. It was everywhere. Reese Witherspoon was recommending it. Book of The Month was touting it as a must read, and Paula Hopkins was singing praises. With so many great reviews and 4.2 star rating on Goodreads, I decided I had to read it. I paused what I was reading and picked it up, only to be sorely disappointed. Now on to the review and why I don’t like the book even when so many are raving about it.
“In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl becomemore than tenants: 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 that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.” – Goodreads.
The first half of the book is all about character development. The reader is introduced to Mrs. Richardson and her children. Mia and Pearl enter soon after. While reading this book, I was reminded of sub-standard TV shows where there is no story line and a lot of drama.
Mrs. Richardson embodies Shaker Heights’ ideology. While the facade of perfection – of the members of Richardson household, their house and lawns is well maintained, Mrs Richardson and her children struggle with “being nice”. They are manipulative, conniving and at times downright bitchy. Mrs Richardson is a bad mother to her children, a bad friend and a bad person.
Mia, is a rebel, non-conformist, perfect at everything she does with god-like powers to understand everyone and everything . All this is in-spite of a bad childhood because her parents didn’t understand her. She is a great mother to Pearl, and an even greater human being no matter what the circumstances.
Such a stark contrast between the good and bad, the right and wrong is drawn from the very beginning. The author throws in your face who to root for, and leaves little to imagination. The battle of Mia versus the rest of the world – where those who like Mia are good people, those who don’t like her are the bad ones – was the last nail in the coffin for me.
A parallel story about a Chinese baby and her custody battle, could have been interesting if the issues of race and parentage were not introduced only to be left hanging mid air.
The book very often borders on “teen lit.” I hoped against hope for the story to get better, some scene that will overshadow the awful writing style and bring some sanity to the madness that this book is but nothing happened. And that is the worst part – that in-spite of so many issues picked up in the book, so many angles to the story – nothing ever happens and the reader is left robbed of time and energy.
Other than the beautifully designed cover of the book, there is hardly anything to write home about.
The book is 352 pages of nothing but failed attempts by the author to deal with way too many issues (teenage sex, abortions, surrogate mothers, adopted vs. biological parents, the non-conformist woman vs. the conformist family oriented woman, etc). The shifting omniscient narration from past to present, tell-not-show style of story writing, and Ng’s personal inclinations towards what she believes is right marred the book beyond salvation.
Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You,which was a New York Times bestseller, a New York TimesNotable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.
Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. She graduated from Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Times, One Story, The Guardian, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award, the American Library Association’s Alex Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
I was looking forward to reading an Ng book as there were such rave reviews not only for Little Fires Everywhere but also her debut book which won many awards. I was highly disappointed.
Have you read Little Fires Everywhere? Did you like it? Do let me know what you think in the comments below.