Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


"Where do we follow the rules, and where do we justify breaking them? Do our pasts determine what we deserve in the future? And is it ever possible to leave your past behind?" Celeste Ng explores these themes, familial relationships, and the contrasts of life in America through Caucasian and African-American, and Asian-American characters and lenses in the utopian Shaker Heights, Ohio. 

I started off watching the Hulu series with Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon, and got a little over halfway but never finished. This made it easy for me to visualize the characters and have a basic sense of the story, while enjoying the themes of the book and the storytelling from multiple character perspectives rather than the tv camera. I finished the book in a few days, finding it much better than the TV series (even though I really like both KW and RW). 

Both the TV series and the book start off the same: a large family house is on fire, and Ng foreshadows the suspect, but we go back in time to discover the events that lead up to the fire. There is an enjoyable mystery aspect to the novel in learning the characters' histories- from the Stepford Wife Mrs. Richardson and her 4 children, as well as her antithesis enigma Mia. There are surprising complexities to each character- and uncomfortable biases confronted when dealing with race, from the perspective of teens and parents. It dives into the flaws of America- how we judge each other, the "justice" system, and race.

Little Fires touches on subjects that all Americans can identify with: family, high school, work; and I think my favorite part was how it showed that there is no perfect way to live life, even as we all strive to achieve the "American dream." My only complaint was its discussion of art seemed to drag on, even though I generally like art [maybe I need to spend more time in NYC.] Overall, I enjoyed the book much more than the series (although partway reading I commend the casting and it did help visualize the characters), as Little Fires really made me think about my family, my circumstances, and how I want to live life.

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