Guest Review: Leah DeCesare, Author of “Fork, Knives and Spoons”, reviews “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

Guest review by Leah DeCesare

About the book: (Back of book copy)
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 become more 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.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

My Review:

Celeste Ng’s second book, Little Fires Everywhere will be one of those books that stays with me. There is so much beauty, truth, pain and humanity in this book that I found myself underlining and pondering passages, rereading them to savor them and roll them around in my mind.

I must share a couple, these two selections hit upon two themes of the book:
“The photos stirred feelings she couldn’t quite frame in words, and this, she decided, must mean they were true works of art.”

“To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.”

Ng uses the omniscient point of view and at first it was a little uncomfortable as a reader, but I quickly got accustomed and appreciated her uncommon choice. Readers enjoy nuanced perspectives without feeling like we’re held at arms length from the characters who are distinctive and multi-dimensional, their stories expertly interwoven.

Little Fires Everywhere digs in and exposes human selfishness, flaws, desires, misperceptions, and tendencies. I was nodding and marveling at the richness and poignancy of the author’s portrayal of teenage behaviors, motivations, and emotions. And then there are her profiles of motherhood. This story does a deep dive into what it means to be a mother, what qualifies as competency, who gets to decide, and raises so many more questions around the essential role of being a mother.

Those who are familiar with my reviews know I love to consider the title’s meaning and Little Fires Everywhere provides enough material to write a thesis. Take this quote which gracefully uses fire-type words while letting us know that this character’s decisions and actions in that moment were starting one of the many fires throughout the story: “Even then Mia had a sense of what she was starting; a hot smell pricked her nostrils, like the first wisp of smoke from a far-off blaze.”

Compelling and observant, there is so much to analyze and discuss within these 367 pages that it will surely end up on university reading lists. Brilliantly constructed, I highly recommend Celeste Ng’s second book, Little Fires Everywhere.

Leah DeCesare is the award-winning author of Forks, Knives, and Spoons and the nonfiction parenting series, Naked Parenting, based on her work as a doula, early parenting educator, and mom of three. Her articles have been featured in The Huffington Post, the International Doula, Eligible Magazine, Simply Woman, and The Key, among others. In 2008, she cofounded the nonprofit Doulas of Rhode Island, and in 2013 she spearheaded the Campaign for Hope to build the Kampala Children’s Centre for Hope and Wellness in Uganda. In a past life, DeCesare worked in public relations and event planning. She now writes, teaches, and volunteers in Rhode Island, where she lives with her family and talking cockatiel.

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Suzy’s Review of Fork, Knives and Spoons:

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