Wednesday, April 11, 2018

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

Do all teenagers cheat and lie?  In this novel, most of them do, and the parents are not that truthful, either, for that matter.  This book is the story of the collision of two families.  The first is the Richardsons, a very affluent family in the planned community of Shaker Heights, near Cleveland.  Their fragile utopia is disrupted, mostly in a positive way, by the arrival of Mia and her daughter Pearl who move into Richardsons’ rental property nearby.  Mia is a talented artist who works odd jobs to get by, and Pearl’s father is not in the picture.  The Richardsons have 4 teenage children:  Lexie, who is a popular senior hoping for acceptance to Yale; Trip, a handsome but shallow athlete; Moody, one of the few characters who is not dishonest; and Izzy, the misfit.  Hormones are raging, and the kids are pairing off, with the resulting jealousies and teen pregnancies coming as no surprise.  Mia’s backstory, however, is the most interesting section of the book and at the same time reminded me that this book is fiction, because her history is a little far-fetched, in my opinion.  I also didn’t understand why she is estranged from her family.  There’s also a side story about the adoption of a Chinese baby by a third family, and this aspect felt very familiar, as I recently read Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran, which dealt with the adoption of a Mexican baby.  In both cases, the birth mother is still alive and wants her child back.  In this novel, the adoption conflict seems unnecessary and is sort of a distraction.  The adopting family has such a small role in the novel that the parents are not fully developed characters.  However, during the custody hearing, the mother’s testimony, which was not entirely helpful to her cause, endeared me to her, as she struggled to describe how she would expose her daughter to Chinese culture.  I just wish that the teenagers in this novel could have been half as honest and worthy of my sympathy.

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