Starting Little Fires Everywhere: A Review

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, Penguin Press, 2017: ☆☆☆☆(4/5 stars)

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, Penguin Press, 2017. 

“One had followed the rules and one had not. But 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.” -Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere 

I want to begin by saying: this novel started off slow, and when I say slow, I mean s l o w. In fact, when I was about forty percent through the novel I was on the brink of closing it for good and moving on to a faithful Ali Smith beckoning me from my bedside table. But I persisted, thinking there must be a reason the reviews are so good, right? My persistence paid off, as when I hit the dead center of the novel, it picked up to a pace that left me consumed and unable to flip its blue cover closed for any length of time. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, proved to be a masterful novel, full of unexpected turns, but most of all storytelling which revealed Ng to be a novelist who has a clear grasp on a fresh narrative form all her own.

This novel follows a community outside of Cleveland, Ohio, Shaker Heights, named the first “successful planned community in the United States.” The community, as the book unfolds, is revealed to hold a desire of achieving a certain utopian dream full of perfect neighborhoods, perfect schools, perfect parents, and perfect children, ideals represented by the Richardson family the central focus of the novel. The Richardson’s family of six is seemingly perfect: the father is a lawyer, the mother a local journalist, the oldest daughter a star of the high school’s plays, the oldest son a successful athlete with a devastating smile, and the younger son a bookish and brilliant aspiring songwriter. Though, it is with the strong-willed, Doc Marten-wearing youngest Daughter, Isabelle, or Izzy,  that the picture perfect family becomes a bit more complicated. Izzy proves to be a girl on a mission to challenge what the rules really are, spurred on by her mother’s constant criticism of her every move, culminating in an assumption that when the Richardson family’s home goes up in flames, with little fires everywhere, she is to blame.

Across town, the Richardson’s hold a small duplex property which they have recently rented out to Mia and Pearl Warren, a mother and daughter pair who showed up to Shaker Heights in a VW Rabbit filled with all their worldly possessions. Mia is an eccentric photographer with a secret, and Pearl is a brilliant bookish girl who immediately draws the younger son of the Richardson’s, Moody, in with intrigue (or infatuation).

The novel follows the two familys, the picture-perfect and the unique, as their lives intertwine, particularly after a controversial custody-battle rocks the aspiring utopia to its very core. Throughout the course of the novel, life-changing secrets are uncovered, relationships blossom, conflicts of interests surface, and the lines of right and wrong are blurred by the smoke of these little fires everywhere.

First, for my criticisms of this novel. As I said at the opening, this book started off slowly, and frankly, I felt like the first half contained a lot of what I can only call lazy writing. The beginning hardly caught my attention, as the entirety of the synopsis was essentially the first chapter just lengthened to fill seven pages with simple descriptions and cliché fillers. Such writing continues throughout much of the first fifty percent of the novel. One of the most memorable moments of this writing comes when the second son realizes his infatuation with Pearl, and Ng writes: “his life had been divided into a before and an after, and he would always be comparing the two.” This line, though endearing, and does help to some extent in Moody’s characterization, harkens back to any John Green novel or coming of age film– the bookish boy who feels stifled by his own family, finds a sort of manic pixie stereotype, with an artist mom and smarts, to become infatuated with. Or another example, a moment with Mia as she realizes Pearl’s movement into normal adolescence, and thinks to herself: “this is what teens do.” Again, this achieves some effect, but it also is painfully cliché, and Mia is not a character who tends toward the cliché. Sometimes in writing, it is helpful to state the obvious and point the reader toward what they are “supposed” to see, but such tactics prove unneeded in the latter half of the novel where Ng shows herself to be a talented writer who does not need clichés to aid in her narrative or to fill awkward spaces to achieve effect. I found these moments, looking back on the novel, to be a contributing factor in the slow beginning, and a minor disappointment at the space wasted in these clichés in which I could have (and should have) been reading Ng’s adept writing.

Now, for the positive. As already alluded to, Ng is masterful in the latter half of the novel. The way the narrative picks up once you hit a certain point is exhilarating. The story takes on a form in the latter half wherein all of the characters and their lives are interconnected, weaving a web of what I have now realized were little fires, burning bright, and coming together as one all-consuming fire of the narrative. Ng achieves this effect through an almost Woolfian style, jumping from character to character within the space of a few lines, to tell the story of each person, their feelings, their thoughts, their actions, and how they contribute to the larger fire. Though not venturing into the free and direct discourse of Mrs. Dalloway, the quintessential jumping narrative (to put Woolf’s narrative style in my own words), she still accomplishes the task of such a difficult narrative style flawlessly. She examines the lives of each main character, includes thoughts of secondary characters, and equates them all into a larger narrative that leaves the reader feeling as though they have examined the inter-workings of and come to understand the community of Shaker Heights in a way none of its people might.  Ng also touches the topics of mother-daughter relationships, the desire for perfection, the idea of rules, and/or ideals, being good in theory but problematic in practice, and the overall pain and joy of being. Ng’s narrative style proves to be fresh, almost experimental but still comprehensible, and highly effective.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book. Ng is a refreshing voice, needed in contemporary literature. I would just encourage any reader of this novel to fight through the beginning if it is found to be as slow as I found it, because it is worth discovering the result of starting Little Fires Everywhere.

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Laci Reads: September

Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst

Welcome to Lace Reads: the monthly (hopefully) book club and book review segment on Composing Lace.

Let’s just get it out there, I am an absolute book worm.  Since I was little and my mom worked in the library of my elementary school I have been surrounded by books– I like to think I practically grew up in between the shelves. At some point I traded in the book covered shelves of an elementary school library, for books in every corner of my own life.  It is a rare occasion you will find a book absent from my purse or minus my iPad (yes I have given in to eBooks), or my night stand clear of a minimum number of five books stacked and waiting for late nights and early mornings.

I love everything there is about books: the pages, the smell, the way they can capture you and hold you, but most of all I love the words, and I mean I love the words. Among my many interests, chief among those is the way words manage to change the world.  To me one of the most intriguing thoughts is that of the cliché, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

With this being a fact of my life it is only natural that I would like to share this love with you.  The topics of the books I choose will vary, but most will focus on faith, life, and growth.  Some of the largest influences on my walk with Jesus have been books such as The Lipstick Gospel by Stephanie May Wilson, Not a Fan by Kyle Idlemen, and Wild and Free by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan (the women who actually introduced me to this month’s selection). Since words do mean so much to me, when I find books that are filled with truth and lead me to the truth of the Gospel, I grab on to them with all my might and heart.

Let’s also not forget the author of the best selling book of all time just happens to be the Creator of the Universe and the owner of my life. Therefore I can only believe that He has placed this love on my heart, calling me to dig deeper into His word and be lead to Truth through other’s words.

Now for this month’s selection, Uninvited: Living Loved when You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst.

When I first heard about this book, it was the day before it came out on Jess Connolly’s Instagram (one of the authors of my favorite book about faith mentioned above, Wild and Free).  Much like the first time I read the cover of Wild and Free I was immediately moved by the subtitle of Uninvited, “Living Loved when you feel less than, left out, and lonely”.  Those words ordered side-by-side rang a bell deep inside me, that beckoned me to get my hands on this book. Those adjectives “less than, left out, and lonely,” have been hallmarks of my life for as long as I can remember, and I was intrigued by the prospect of someone tackling them in a book, maybe I would finally have an answer for the hurt I have known for so long.  Uninvited did just that, but rather than containing the answer, it pointed me to the answer I have always known– true acceptance is found through Jesus.

Uninvited, tackles the topic of rejection and the way it can effect one’s personal image and expectations of others. Let me tell you, TerKeurst does a phenomenal job approaching such a difficult subject.  Her writing is filled with so many truths, so many women need to hear.  It is so easy, especially as a young woman to let the words “left out”, “less than”, and “lonely” define your life and the way you feel about yourself, as they have done to me for so long. TerKeurst approaches this subject with such ease, love, and truth that it is almost inevitable your thoughts will be redirected to the knowledge that she wants to share: that you are called to live loved, you are told you are enough, and you are not lonely if Jesus is the love and guide of your life.

One of the main points that TerKeurst stresses that I think defines this book, is the fact of not allowing ourselves to expect other people to heal us.  As I wrote in my post Caregiver that tendency has been something I have struggled with my entire life.  I want nothing more than for another human to care for me the way that I care for them, and when they don’t and life seems questionable, I question God’s goodness. However, TerKeurst provides an entire book about the way that human expectations and expectations of other humans, will always let us down. Unless we turn to God and His truth with all of our lives, we can never accurately assess God’s goodness and know true acceptance. The fact is, when we give him all of our lives, it is clear to see that He is always good and always faithful, even in rejection and hurt. That is what Jesus died for on the cross–that we may know God’s infinite love and acceptance.

“I couldn’t keep my old broken beliefs, nail a little Jesus truth to the side and expect stability. I knew I had to stop assessing God’s goodness by how my life felt at any given time.  Feelings are broken boards.  Only truth is solid, unchanging, and stable through and through.”

Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited 

Uninvited points us to respond to God’s call for us to turn all of our past rejections over to Him, and acknowledge that He is at work and will be faithful to us through eternity.  He calls us to live loved, because we are, and to turn to Him in all moments of our lives, even the painful ones.  I pray for you dear reader, that this will not only be your truth, but mine–that we can live loved and comforted, knowing because of Jesus, in God we will always find acceptance

For more on this subject, I highly suggest picking up Uninvited for yourself, and be blessed by the truth it points to.

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.

Isaiah 42:16

We are Called to be Wild and Free

Recently I was browsing the tumblr of one of my favorite people on social media, Hanna Olivia Way, and I came across a post from her Instagram with this quote attached to it,

“And the truth dear friends, is this: our standing has never wavered with our Father. Though the world has twisted what it means to be a daughter, His stance and His position toward us has absolutely stayed resolute. The world cannot dictate what it means to be treasured by our Father, but the love and relationship of our Heavenly Father can heal and transcend the damage done here on earth. The Creator of the universe didn’t just love and speak us into being, he also called us good – the same word He called the massive majestic oceans and the sun that lights our solar system and keeps us all sustained. He sent His son to make a way for us while we were still broken and sinful and sitting with our fingers in our ears, unwilling to hear truth. His Holy Spirit runs wild in our lives, guiding us, leading us, growing us, and groaning for us so we can genuinely be in community with Him. We mean the world to Him – not because we’re good or we’ve earned it, but because we are His treasure, the apple of His eye, the daughters He is coming back for.” 
Jess Connolly, Wild and Free
 
Incredibly moved by that beautiful passage, I immediately went to Google, and searched what this Wild and Free thing was.  When I found the book on Amazon, I was instantaneously inclined to hit the “purchase now” button when I read this sentence on the front cover, “A hope-filled anthem for the woman who feels she is both too much and never enough.” When I read that, all I could think was UHHH Hello, that’s me. I was so excited to have this book in my hands.
Let me tell you dear friends, it has been a game changer since the moment I opened the next-day shipped envelope. 
       If you are new here (which you probably are, I am not consistent enough to have a true following) I would first like to introduce myself. My name is Laci, I am a nineteen year old college student, studying Secondary English Education, who lives in the most beautiful state of the fifty—Colorado, who loves to read, drink coffee (sometimes absurd amounts of tea), be in the mountains amongst pine trees, and to watch the rain.  But most importantly, I am a daughter of The Most High.  
          My spiritual journey has not been an easy one, but sanctification is not easy for anyone. In fact, up until six weeks ago, I had not picked up my bible in over three months. Each day, I am still growing in my relationship with Jesus and learning what it truly means to follow Him. Each day I am met with things that call me to examine and question myself, if I am truly living as Jesus has called me to.
          Though, I have been a Christian since the age of seven, when I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I did not really understand what that meant until a year ago.  After going through the most difficult season of my life in my senior year of high school, I started college and I was diagnosed with anxiety and severe clinical depression that dated back to my sophomore year of high school.  It was a few months after that diagnosis when another book The Lipstick Gospel (my post about it is here) opened my eyes to how badly I needed Jesus.  After reading that book, I wept and sought Jesus with what I thought was all of my heart for about two months, but then my fire kind of dwindled.
          This has been a pattern in my life since my junior year of high school, when I first decided that I really wanted to start taking my faith seriously.  I get this fire in my heart to follow Jesus, and I do great for a few months, then I just stop.  I stop praying.  I stop doing my devotionals. I just stop.  I determine I will be fine going it alone, it will all be okay, but let me tell you—that NEVER happens. It is NEVER okay.  I ALWAYS come crawling back, sobbing to God on my bed at night begging He forgive me and take me back.
          However, it was not until I began reading Wild and Free, that I was prompted to truly examine these facts about myself and how I approached the title “follower of Jesus” that resides in my Instagram bio. It was then when I was truly called by the Holy Spirit to examine myself, that I realized, that was where my problem laid; before—my entire faith was based on “I” statements.  “I was going to make myself feel better by doing this.” “I was determined to follow Jesus.” And that is not what this faith is about. 
          The most beautiful element of this faith is that it means there is no longer an “I”, there is only Jesus.  There is no longer a struggle of having to make myself  determined to stay, there is only Jesus.
           Recently, my stepmother sent me the link to a sermon preached by an intern at her church.  His sermon was titled, “The Simplicity of Faith.”  While I listened, I was moved toward the end of the sermon, when he spoke the phrase, “This is a gospel of simple grace and simple faith.” 
          That is the point my friends, a truth that has been spoken to my heart so many times over the last two months or so, I cannot even count.  This is a simple gospel of simple faith.  This is a faith that the God of the Universe has handpicked you, loved you, called you good and at ease, sent His Son, who shed his blood for you all so you can stop saying “I” and be free of your worldly, sinful self.  You are washed clean, and you have been made a wild woman in God, who can call herself free not because of “I”, but because of him, Jesus. 
            If you are a woman who calls Jesus your savior, whether you are 19 or 95, I suggest you pick up Wild and Free.  I can hardly put into words this book’s ability to change lives.  You will be challenged, you will ache, you will have joy from its words, and I strongly encourage you to embrace that.  Embrace this truth that we receive from God’s word, embrace this message that echoes the truth of the gospel that authors Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan have been called by the Father to share with women of all ages.  We are not called to be quiet, to be perfect, to have perfect bodies, or perfect houses, or perfect lives. 
We are called to live not by the rules of this world, but wild in the woman that God created us, by hand, to be and free in being the daughters who Jesus came to save.  

The Anthem of Wild and Free, Wild and Free, by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan