For our next book, it was my choice. When we started this blog, we thought Erica would pick a few and then I would pick a few. So far, that has worked out really well. The main rule we have is that whomever picks the book is the one who starts the review with their perspective. That’s why you are seeing me go first this time around.
For my choice, I went with Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. This had been on my to-be-read list for quite a while, so it seemed like a perfect chance to read it. I was hesitant at first to even buy the book. I absolutely loathe publishers who charge more than $9.99 for their books and rarely, if ever, pay more than that—especially for a Kindle copy. This book is listed at $13.99 for the Kindle edition, which makes me sick. It was a tough sell, even with so many 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Luckily, I still had some money left from one of the Amazon lawsuit payouts, so I was able to get it for much less. Since Erica and I use the family Kindle feature, we only needed to share one copy, which also made it work.
I say all of that about price to say this: if you like what you read in this review but are hesitant to spend so much on a book, know that we totally get it. Watch for it to go on sale. Find a good deal on the hardcover at Target or online. Maybe check with your library or a friend. It’s definitely worth it to locate a copy!
So let’s get into the book itself. LFE takes place in the 90s in a snooty place called Shaker Heights. It focuses on a few families and how they interact. In the first pages of the book, we learn that a house was lit on fire with smaller fires set in each room—thus the title Little Fires Everywhere. The rest of the book focuses on the story leading up to that moment. What happened? Why did the place burn down? Who was involved? And what led them to do what they did?
When Erica and I initially agreed to read this book, we both thought it was going to be more YA than anything else. After reading it, I am not sure I would categorize it that way. It is definitely part YA, but also part mystery and part regular fiction. To me, it felt like a character study wrapped in a mystery with a YA bow. With any luck, that’s a good enough mental visual to help set you up for success in reading this book. Maybe not as good a visual as “bubbly snot” from our All Your Perfects review, but hopefully just as helpful!
My absolute favorite parts of this book were the 90s references. Sure, I loved the story and the characters, but the references to the 90s era took me back to that time and made me remember them like they were yesterday. As a southern California teenager in the 90s, I could relate to many of the references in this book. I can’t believe I am going to admit to this, but I remember wearing overalls with one side hanging down (which are now coming back), putting on Hypercolor T-shirts that showed how hot and sweaty you were by changing colors (gross!), and rocking the big-wave-Dave hairstyle that used so much Aqua Net hair spray, it would cloud up the bathroom in that sticky, funky smell that is probably now known for causing cancer. I remember rocking out with my yellow Sony Sportsman Walkman to tapes and CDs of bands mentioned in this book. One can only imagine what Erica would have thought of me if she knew me back then. If I could only find a Hypercolor shirt these days! As JT would say, I’m bringing sexy back, ya!
I really dug the writing style the author uses. It was interesting and felt a bit different. It was not a straight narrative, where the dialogue between the characters is what drove the story and we all learn as they talk things out. Instead, it focused on telling what the main characters were thinking, with a touch of dialogue layered in. It almost felt like an old family story being told by someone who was there. So, as the reader, we had a fuller picture of the story than the characters themselves. If you had told me this going into it, I would have been cautious. Normally, I prefer authors show me what’s happening in the story instead of telling me what’s going on. But, the author uses this style in such a straightforward and clear manner that it works and works well.
As someone who went to an all-guys Catholic high school, I can’t say the characters were exactly like those I knew in school…that would be kinda weird with all guys…but they were definitely relatable to friends I knew then and even some friends I know now.
Our first two reviews were really intense books. All Your Perfects and The Idea of You were both super emotional. Little Fires Everywhere is not in that same vein at all, which I think is okay. Sometimes you need a good, fun book that is relatable and entertaining to break up all the dramatic books. For me, Little Fires Everywhere absolutely fits that criteria. Find a good deal on the book and get it, especially if you were a product of the 90s. Hopefully, you will love it as much as I did.
Erica, you’re up!
I remember being a kid and a teacher asking, “What superhero trait would you most like to have?” As a young kid, I wanted to fly so I could go to Disneyland whenever I wanted. As a middle-schooler, I wanted to be super smart so I’d never have to do homework again. As a teenager, I wanted to read people’s thoughts so I’d know if Brett/David/Nick liked me and why. You’d think twenty years would change a person, but really, my dream trait would still be knowing what other people think. Why is this person treating me this way—are they mad at me? Why is that person acting that way—are they hurting?
In Little Fires Everywhere, I learned all about what motivates people to act and treat others certain ways. Why the mom is extra hard on one child and easier on others. Why the child is troubled and troublesome. On the surface, the answers are obvious. In the case of the mom, she clearly has favorites. In the case of the child, she’s simply a “mental” teenager. But there are deeper meanings. Real aha! reasons. It made me think twice about my own life, my own relationships. What kind of surface evaluations have I made and continue to make?
This book is also a lesson in consequences. For every action there is a reaction. Some of the time those reactions involve confrontation—at times ugly, at others breathtakingly beautiful. Sometimes I started on one person’s side, but by the end, that loyalty shifted. Once I understood people’s motivations, I understood their humanity—a gray area I never expected to identify with.
These informed opinions are not the result of witnessed conversations. Rather, I learned what motivated others from an objective narrator. I like how Matt described it—the book is written as though it’s an old story told by someone who was there. This “someone” did not take sides, but in fact showed me all sides, so I could make my own informed decisions. This is one of the things I love about this book. But it’s also why I consider this book so unique. I’ve never had such strong opinions about a book containing so little dialogue.
For me, there was a lot I liked about Little Fires Everywhere. The characters are so diverse. Racially, financially, emotionally—with different ages, prejudices, and outlooks. Location-wise, the descriptions were very specific—at moments I felt like I was there: in Pearl’s bedroom, at the Richardson house, inside the bathroom stall at Shaker Heights High School.
Speaking of setting—and I’m repeating Matt here—it’s important to mention one other important part of this story—the decade in which the book is set: the 90s. This decade is my jam—I love it as much as Boys II Men loves harmony—so, naturally, I very much enjoyed this book. So many wonderful 90s references! Delia’s catalogs and CK One…jukeboxes that play Spice Girls and TLC…hacky sacks and pagers…the rage-blasting of Tori Amos. The author really took me back. Even the mention of Ricki Lake made me nostalgic.
But, ultimately, this book is about relationships. What it’s like to be a sibling. What it’s like to be a mother. What it’s like to be a friend. And all the emotions swirling within those entanglements: anger, jealousy, entitlement, and, most of all, love. What would I do for love? Would I protect? Would I keep secrets? Would I lie? Would I sacrifice? Would I burn it all to the ground and start over?
Little Fires Everywhere will make you think about what motivates you. It’ll make you think about how you perceive others and how they perceive you. It’s a book worth picking up when you really want to know why people do what they do and say what they say.
Give it a read and enjoy it.
Oh, and Matt? I still would’ve wanted your number—Hypercolor T-shirt, big-wave-Dave do, and all.
Erica, I would have given you my pager number and I would have paged you 3266-4475-968-3463-27-4355! (Damn girl, you fine as hell! But I would have had to say “fine” as “fyyyyyyyyyyne” because I thought THAT was cool.)
I like all of Erica’s comments. I especially like the way she talks about how this book makes you think. LFE is thought-provoking and fun.
For me, I always wanted the super power to fly. Still do.
To purchase a copy of or read a synopsis for Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, click here.