Good intentions are the best kind of intentions. Right? Most people are raised to be good people. Most people want to live in communities with good people. Most people are good people.
Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires Everywhere” is the kind of book perfect for a long, drawn out afternoon where you want to get different perspectives on small town life, local politics, and the intimate intentions of good people. The characters are so well formed and engrossing in their attitudes that it’s easy to form opinions about them, and the writing… the writing is absolutely fluid and emotional and strewn with hints of description that provide a clear picture without forced adjectives taking away from the narrative.But if you’re an avid reader, someone who loves to lose time between the pages of novel, then you will understand me when I warn you that if you read this book, you will end it a changed person. At no time during this novel did I find myself complacent with the occurring events. It was exhausting- -drawing conclusions, forming opinions, hating characters in one section only to pity them in the next chapter. This level of intensity, this back-and-forth of actions and reasons behind the actions and couchcoaching of how I would’ve handled the situation, and blaming of one character to excuse the actions of another… this is something deeper than a well-written novel. This book took me beyond my rational scope of reaction when finishing a good book.
The book opens with a fire in Shaker Heights, one that happened in May and that everyone was talking about all summer, and because of the beauty of the writing, we get an immediate sense of what kind of place Shaker Heights is and who is one of the main families of interest in the novel–a small town and the Richardsons. Right from the opening pages, we know the small town has a pond with geese (so idyllic), the Richardsons have a house with six bedrooms (quite nice), and Mrs. Richardson (who slept until almost noon) thinks her daughter set the house on fire.
Right from the start, her parenting prowess is brought into question, but by the end of the book, so many other factors are revealed that it’s a contradiction to say whether or not the perfect parent exists. Yet, the author attempts to rationalize Mrs. Richardson’s brighter points. She’d inherited a house that she rented to a certain kind of person, the struggling kind that made Mrs. Richardson feel like she was doing her part to help out. Her parents had raised her to do good, to donate and attend fundraisers, and so Mrs. Richardson did her part by renting the house she’d inherited for a very low price to a single mother with a brilliant daughter.
“She wanted to feel that she was doing good with it.”
…and that’s when the author threw us the second level of parenting. This single mother, a struggling artist, moved to a good neighborhood so her brilliant daughter could attend a better school. Two very different women with very different plans on how they live their lives and completely different perceptions of all the rules and regulations in place in Shaker Heights. By the end of the book, I could see the benefits of both types of parenting styles and the pros and cons of the stable home versus the nomadic lifestyle, and I wasn’t expecting to experience this type of perspective shift.
Beyond the current events, and probably the most spectacular of methods to craft such a story, is the way the backgrounds and history of the characters all influence how the events unfold. So often scenes happen in sequential order or with a logical progression, but when seemingly random decisions change the course of events for not just the person deciding but also other people in the radius, that’s when we see the weakness or strength of the other people.
This was a terribly difficult book for me to read, not because of the writing, but because of the content. At the heart of the plot, and perhaps the largest issue dividing the town, is a court case that will change everything for everyone, but most of all for the baby. This book calls into question the motives for adopting a Chinese baby, what it means to be a good mother, and how to determine the best intentions for a baby.
The author definitely tackles some tough moral issues that also address entitlement. How do you feel about heredity over environment? Nature versus nurture? Are you filled with good intentions?
As always, thanks for your time!
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Marisa Cleveland loves to laugh, hates to cry, and does both often. She has a master’s degree from George Mason University and joined The Seymour Agency after she ended an eight-year career teaching students language arts, grades 6-12. Previous to teaching, she worked as an assistant director for a graduate school in Washington, D.C., before settling in Southwest Florida over a decade ago. As a former gymnast, cheerleader, and dancer, she understands the importance of balance, and she encourages everyone to stay flexible. Cleveland is a Leadership Marco 2015 alum, and she loves connecting with other readers through social media. Though she’s a painfully private introvert, she can be reached through her website: www.marisacleveland.com or follow her journey on Twitter: @marisacleveland.