I came by this book through Reece Witherspoon’s Instagram Book Club page. Reece Witherspoon is that actress who was in Legally Blonde and who, now, is pushing forward with her production company to bring proper female roles to the big and small screen. You may have seen or heard of her recent tv series, Big Little Lies, which took the awards season by storm last year with Nicole Kidman, deservedly, winning several actress awards. As usual I came to all of that late! I have the book but am yet to read it and missed the tv series when it was aired so had to buy the DVD. When we watched it we ended up having to ration ourselves to one episode a night because we knew it was so good that we didn’t want it to end. It was so good.
So when I read that Little Fires Everywhere was being turned into a limited tv series by Reece, as Big Little Lies had been, I wanted to read it, be ahead of the game this time.
Little Fires Everywhere is about two families, The Richardson’s and the Warren’s. The Richardson’s are a long established family in Shaker, Mrs Richardson having grown up there and moving back after college with her husband to raise their family there, they have two boy and two girls. Mrs Richardson has a rental property in Shaker and she takes on Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl as tenants in one of the apartments. The story then follows those two families with the start and the end being the burning down of the Richardsons’ family home by their youngest daughter Izzy.
Initially I found the story hard to get into. It seemed to be about all the kids so a story about teenagers growing up and going to High School. Interesting but not really floating my boat. But it seemed to suddenly take on a different direction and the work with the children’s characters was important as the framework to the adults story. Mrs Richardson (as she is mainly referred to throughout) is tasked by her daughter Izzy to find out more about a photograph of Mia and a baby that the children had all seen in the local art museum. Mia is an artist but the photograph of her is by a world renowned photographer. Initially Mrs Richardson doesn’t progress with the request because it is Izzy that has asked and she tends towards the dramatic. But then Mrs Richardsons’ best friend become embroiled in a custody battle over her nearly adopted baby, found on the steps of a fire station. The Richardson’s had attended the baby Mirabelle’s first birthday party and later Lexie (the other Richardson daughter) tells Mia that the baby was found on the steps of the fire station. Mia is friends with the mother of baby Mirabelle, or May Ling as she was birth named. The mother had left the baby when she knew not what else to do to keep going but as a result of that had found her feet again and try as she might could not locate her baby though she desperately wanted to. When Mia hears that the baby was found on the steps of the fire station she can not believe that it is a coincidence and tells the mother. Thus starts a fairly integral plot point as we follow the custody battle through the courts and the press. Opinions are divided amongst everyone as to who the baby should go to, her birth mother, a Chinese Immigrant with no roots and little money, or the prospective adopters with a big house, lots of money, lots of love and no idea of Chinese heritage. A couple that have tried and tried and tried to have children enduring one tragedy after another.
In one of the press articles Mrs Richardson reads that the mother learned about her baby’s whereabouts from a colleague at the restaurant where Mia also worked. Mrs Richardson then felt spurred on to find out what Mia’s story is, given that she is ruining the life of her best friend.
In amongst all of this are the relationships of the children with each other and the adults around them.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was completely engrossed in it. I think it has a very well developed plot and weaves itself nicely towards the end without being too convoluted or confusing. I particularly liked the exploration of the theme of cultural identity and how this is confused with racism. When Mr Richardson asks his wife how she thinks her friend will help Mirabelle explore her Chinese roots and understand her heritage Mrs Richardson tells him that baby Mirabelle will be lucky enough to live in a house where the colour of her skin won’t matter. Mr Richardson realises that she is too close to the situation to talk sense.
The exploration of the relationship with Mrs Richardson and Izzy is also fascinating. Izzy is the youngest child and was born very prematurely. She spent many weeks in hospital barely surviving and since that has been wrapped in cotton wool so tightly that she has often fought her way out of it and gained a reputation of being the crazy one. Her escapades at school, particularly with toothpicks, were a particular highlight for me.
This book had a nice refreshing, clear and honest tone to it. I found once the pace picked up it went too quickly but before that it seemed a bit excruciating. But I’ve started to learn that I really struggle with the start of books and films as characters are introduced. But for the story to work you need to be introduced don’t you!
This is highly recommended by me!