Review: “Little Fires Everywhere”

by Ari Gordon, Opinions Editor
photo courtesy of Celeste Ng

South chose Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires Everywhere” as an all-school read to address the recent racist tragedies the U.S. has endured. The administration wanted students uninterested in reading the book to engage with the story, so South also offered students the alternative of watching the TV adaptation of the novel. 

At first, I was going to opt for the show, but my sister highly recommended the book. So, although out of character, I decided to read “Little Fires Everywhere.”

“Little Fires Everywhere” follows the Warren family — struggling single mother Mia and her daughter Pearl — and their relationship with the wealthy Richardson family, a stereotypical family you could imagine running into in Newton. 

The story takes place in the affluent town of Shaker Heights,  which closely resembles Newton. Beyond the familiar setting, each character feels like they could be South students, not just ideal archetypes. Since the story is about the dichotomy of the two families’ social classes and the relationships that form among the characters, every reader — both students and teachers — can identify with at least one character.

Ng focuses on one individual character or relationship each chapter to develop their respective stories; though a clever idea, in practice, the separate chapters became annoying. Ng dedicates whole chapters to characters I was unable to relate to, such as Moody (whose name is about the extent of his personality). Ultimately, while I was reading, chapters focused on teen crushes paled in comparison to those exploring Mia’s complex road to single motherhood. Dedicating time to classic teen drama felt like Ng’s attempt at appealing to a wider audience; I, however, would’ve preferred a book focused exclusively on Mia and her adult relationships. 

Though filler chapters water down an otherwise-brilliant story, “Little Fires Everywhere” was a perfect summer reading book; Ng slightly knocking down the quality of her content to appeal to a larger audience is excusable if you must appeal to the larger audience of the whole school. 

Moral dilemmas, ranging from a fight between friends to a mother not being allowed to see her child, are at the center of the text, and readers can’t help but feel for every perfectly imperfect character. 

Unlike most books targeting teenage readers, Ng does not fall prey to clichés. By including moments where characters act irrationally, Ng brings each character to life while helping the reader develop stronger connections with them.

While reading, I personally flip-flopped from who I felt was in the right and spent considerable amounts of time pondering who Ng was trying to depict as good and bad. I eventually concluded that, just like in real life, there are no purely good or bad actions. While this may not seem clear at first glance, there is much more to the drama in Ng’s novel.

At first, I was not really sure how the book related to the Black Lives Matter movement — South said they chose the book in part for its relevance to the movement — but the story does indirectly address questions of motherhood, racism and classism. 

I now understand that this was a much better choice than a book explicitly teaching about racism, as instead, it portrays a story that makes us question the racist systems ourselves. The book successfully brings the reader to ponder difficult questions, yet it does not provide explicit answers. Each reader closes the book with an opinion they formed themselves.

Whoever you are, this book has something for you. Whether it be the cheesy drama, emotional dilemmas or hard-hitting prompts, “Little Fires Everywhere” will help you form your thoughts on almost every “ism” out there.