In this month’s GB Book Club our team members were engrossed in Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, a novel that traps us in the cookie cutter town of Shake Heights and takes us through the exploration of the themes of family, motherhood, and class.
Our team members sat down to chat about the story’s themes, characters, and relation to life as we know it. For more discussion, you can join along in our GB Book Club group on Facebook.
JM: There’s a scene in the book that makes you feel torn between making the choice of who is right and who is wrong and I think the intention of the author here to make you feel a little bit uncomfortable but also make you think about what it means to be a “fit” mother.
BB: The idea of what makes someone fit to be a mother ultimately comes down to class. I think the way that we, as Celeste highlights, rationalize the outcome of that scene is based on growing up in a society that values financial support over emotional support. Our judicial system sees a “fit parent” as someone who has the financial means to provide for a child, which isn’t entirely untrue, but doesn’t allow for a conversation about the emotional support we need from our parents to thrive.
JM: It’s interesting to look at the character of Mia who got pregnant with the intention to give the baby up for adoption but whose maternal instinct kicked into gear and made her feel and take action on the opposite.
BB: The relationships that both Mia and Pearl develop throughout the story also transcend the biological ties to motherhood. The story shows how they experience that connection of motherhood with someone other than their own mothers and how it helps them both gain a sense of security and/or belonging. It touches on the nurturing instincts that women have (and often have conditioned into them)…and it just goes to show that what we lack in relationships with our parents, we seek out in others.
JM: Yes! Which is interesting that you pointed that out because I think this “in search of” theme is really prevalent in the actions and personalities of the teenagers in the book. You have Pearl that is seeking sense of family or the closeness of familial bonds from the Richardsons and the Richardson children who look to Mia and Pearl as the non-traditional family breaking the stereotypes of the traditional Shaker Heights family structure.
BB: Which of the children do you think is the most changed by the end of the book?
JM: I would have to say Izzie. The book opens with her setting fire to the home and it sets the stage that she is this misunderstood, unpredictable and angry teenager but as the story unfolds and through the relationship she develops with Mia we learn that this is not the case. It’s more so because there’s a societal norm in the town of Shaker Heights and she doesn’t exactly fit the mold of what that norm is. But by the end of the book she is setting these little fires almost as a symbolic way to start fresh.
BB: I think it’s Trip. Where Izzie learned about the possibilities of the world around her, Trip learned about the possibilities of his inner life. He didn’t even know that he didn’t know the depth of his feelings, or that there was more to be discovered in the first place. I feel like Pearl didn’t just manic pixie dream girl him but showed him that not only was there more to the world but there was more within him.
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