Little Fires Everywhere was one of those books that I couldn’t get away from. It showed up on Reader often enough, with pretty good reviews (and good reviews from reviewers I trust, too), but I just couldn’t bring myself to pick it up when I went to the book shop. It had cropped up on my Instagram timeline loads, always looking like it was trying to straddle the line between Young Adult and popular fiction. You know the kind – tackling a topical issue with a positive ending all wrapped up in a bow. I felt like I knew the plot in my head before I even picked it up. “No”, I told myself, “this one isn’t for me – 30-something fathers don’t read Little Fires Everywhere”.
But then, you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover are you? So I guess I had to read it to find out I didn’t like it for myself.
“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”
In Shaker Heights, a planned town in Ohio, everything ticks along like clockwork, until itinerant artist Mia Warren rolls into town with her daughter, Pearl. The Warrens make friends with the self satisfied Richardsons and their four teenage kids. From our vantage point we begin to see Shaker Heights’s perfect community begin to fray, and unravel completely for the Richardsons as their friendships with the Warrens sets in motion a chain of events entirely uninvited, but seemingly inevitable.
After their arrival, all sorts of moral conundrums about kids and their parents crack open in front of us – a woman who gave up her baby takes the new adopted parents to court; there’s a pregnancy scare for one of the teenage daughters; and we discover the reasons why there isn’t a father accompanying Mia and Pearl on their travels.
The trouble is, I just didn’t care about anyone involved. There’s six main characters and they all seemed as annoying as each other to me. I couldn’t empathise with any of them – in the end I was almost wishing them bad luck as Ng rolled out the latest plot twist. That’s the trouble with a book that has so many teenagers as part of the main cast: 30-something dads are just going to think they deserve whatever the writer throws their way. It just seemed pointless to me.
Which is a shame – it’s very well crafted. Months after I’ve finished reading it I’m still mulling it over in my mind. So maybe it is good, but maybe I was right – it just wasn’t for me.
“the problem with rules, he reflected, was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time there were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure which side of the line you stood on.”
So what do you think? Have you read it? Did you like it? Would you recommend it?
Let me know in the comments!
If you’re after a better book set in a small town, then why not try Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor:
But if you’re after something else set in small US town, then there’s really only two I’m recommending: