“Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.”
Shaker Heights is a nice, law-abiding American suburb. At the heart of it is Elena Richardson, journalist and mother of four, whose placid and rule-following nature mirrors the novel’s setting. She’s the type of person who does everything she is supposed to, and her distaste for those who don’t is palpable. She’s an interesting person to follow, especially when Mia Warren and her illegitimate daughter Pearl rock up into the neighborhood and rent a small apartment from the Richardsons. The lives of the two families cannot help but intertwine, pleasantly at first, but it all changes when the couple down the road attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby.
Little Fires Everywhere boasts brilliantly vivid characters who were all interesting to read about. The enigmatic Mia and the stifled Mrs. Richardson were my favourites: polar opposites, each morally opposed to the others’ lifestyle, and they interacted brilliantly. I loved how Ng portrayed each character: they felt real and I cared about their struggles. A lot of their story arcs presented controversial themes, but Ng made sure to show the reader what it’s like in each character’s shoes. She showed the flip side of the coin in each story, creating empathy for each character even if I didn’t necessarily agree with their views. It got me to take a moment to think about my preconceptions, and remember, sharply, that nothing in life can ever be easily classified or judged.
The story laughs in the face of the “show don’t tell” rule, which is fabulous as I love being reminded that literature never has to conform, and I also enjoy the parallels between the writing style and the over-arcing theme of the novel. There is little dialogue, and often feels like more of an account than a story, but what little there is is well-placed and effective. It remains remarkably engaging while helping to remove the reader enough from the centre of the story to encourage a bit of objectivity, something that is often hard to do when presenting interesting themes in fiction.
“Do you think,” he asked Mrs. Richardson as they cleared the table, “that Mark and Linda really know how to raise a Chinese child?”
Mrs. Richardson stared at him. “It’s just like raising any other child, I should think,” she said stiffly, stacking the plates in the dishwasher. “Why on earth would it be any different?”
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the story, I loved the characters, and I loved sitting down with a cup of tea to read about them, and have myself a ponder about society, and empathy, and what truly makes a family.
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