Book review: Little Fires everywhere

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The Richardsons are a charming family of 6, living the quintessential dream life, owning 2 houses, having 3 children who ‘fit in’ and a 4th that rebels against everything they seem to stand for. The mother works for a local newspaper publication all her life, while the father is a lawyer. Mrs.Richardson lets her house out to single mom Mia Warren and her teenaged daughter Pearl. The initial part of the book is focused on introducing and building each character, then drawing out the contrasted upbringing of Pearl versus the 4 Richardson children (a girl, 2 boys and a girl again). The families start to get intertwined, at times in uncomfortable ways and a lot of empathy is drawn towards Pearl, who has never had a stable home, following her artist mother from town to town all her life until now. She starts to enjoy a stable set of friends, crashing in at the Richardsons and watching television with the kids, and so on.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished reading Little Fires everywhere. The author story at the back caught my eye, as she had grown up in Pittsburgh, my temporary hometown during my 4 years of stay in America. I understand this is now adapted as a televised series, with Reese Witherspoon playing one of the lead characters -so, spolier alert, in case you’d rather watch the show.

The book began interestingly, introducing you to a town named Shaker Town in Ohio. A quiet place, planned to perfection, where everyone seems to follow all the rules needed to live this scripted to perfection life. Along comes a single mom with her teenaged daughter, and a drama ensues, with all elements like sex, abortions, mysterious pasts and moral dilemmas.

Trouble starts when Mrs. Richardson insists on Mia working at her place as a house cleaner. What follows is a series of complicated relationships between the 6 Richardons and the 2 Warrens. Mrs.Richardsons curiosity at Mia’s past sends her off on a trip to meet and understand Mia’s past and a truth about Pearl that even she isn’t aware of. Pearl begins to love everything the Richardsons have, their way of life, even as two of the Richardson kids are drawn to her way of upbringing -unconventional, minimalist and free-floating. There is a whole section devoted to Mia’s past, delving into her love for photography and revealing the mystery of how and why she had Pearl in her life.

There is another sub plot in the background, with one of Mia’s fellow workers giving up a baby, but wanting it back desperately, and getting into a huge legal battle with a wealthy family that has adopted the ‘orphaned’ baby in the meantime. With the wealthy family in question being close friends of the Richardsons, and the whole courtroom drama being played out in local news, television and so on, it becomes a battle of loyalties, a battle of so called ‘good’ vs. ‘moral’, with most people in Shaker town having to take sides.

The story ends on a sad note, with broken hearts and relationships and a loss of property, damaged due to fire. The book questions philosophies of life and upbringing -should one follow a stereotype and be self focused, or follow their heart and live the tough consequences meted out by life? Is there a right and a wrong? Who should bring up a baby, the birth mother, even if she does not have economic resources, of a family that has all the resources needed, tried everything to have a baby and considers this same baby as a God given gift to them when they find it abandoned at a fire station one night?

This one definitely gets you thinking about the many questions the book raises. There is a lot of layering in the complex characters created in the story. Thumbs up.