Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“All her life she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never – could never – set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity.” (161)

Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio during the Clinton era of the ‘90s, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng centers on the picture perfect Richardson family who live in a perfectly curated neighbourhood and their new enigmatic tenant, Mia and teen daughter, Pearl.

Mia and Pearl are the exact opposite of the Richardson family – the exact opposite of what Shaker Height’s represents – perfection. Mia is an artist and a single-mother, whereas the Richardsons appear to be the epitome of what upper-middle-class families are to represent in Shaker Heights: Mr. Richardson is a partner at his law firm; Mrs. Richardson is a journalist for the local paper, and their four children, two boys and two girls seem to be the ideal children and students. Although, things are not always as they seem to be, but to Pearl, a girl who has moved every year of her life, finds the Richardsons, and the life they comfortably live, enchanting.

Now mix in another upper-middle-class couple, the McCulloughs, who have been desperately trying to build their own family without any luck of their own, announce that they are adopting a Chinese baby that was abandoned at a fire station. The same baby that Mia’s colleague had given up because, at the time, she was unable to provide for her baby, but now wants her back. A custody battle ensues which drastically divide Mia and Mrs. Richardson. Suspicious of Mia’s motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes obsessed to uncover Mia’s secrets, but at a cost that dispels all three families.

In Little Fires Everywhere themes of family, motherhood and politics are predominant, while silent questions of who is fit to be a mother and have a family resonate throughout the novel: is it wealth, age, or a nuclear family structure? This is a beautifully written book, and a powerful story.IMG_5300.JPG

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

“Fiction is about readers. Without readers there is no point in books, and therefore they are as important as the author, perhaps more important. But often the only way to see what a reader thought, how they lived when they were reading, is to examine what they left behind.”

Claire Fuller’s latest novel, Swimming Lessons, imbues a catharsis of emotions as one family attempts to piece together the mystery of their missing mother and wife, Ingrid. In what is described as a spine-tingling tale, this novel lacks that nail-biting instant thriller, but slowly unravels a dark family secret. Told through alternating literary techniques (epistolary and prose), the reader is swept back in time by reading past letters and then quickly brought to the present with each new chapter.

The novel begins with Gil Coleman seeing his long-lost wife, Ingrid, walking on the street, he follows her, but to no avail, and while walking  back he takes a near fatal-fall. Nan, the eldest daughter, is on-hand at the hospital with her father, while Flora is enjoying an intimate foray with a lover, which we later learn is a similar trait of her father’s. What follows is an ebb and flow of heart-aching stories told through letters Ingrid wrote to her husband that she sporadically places in novels strewn throughout their home, while the other thread follows present day daughters, Flora and Nan, as they deal with their dying father and the true history of their parents’ relationship.

I did not love this book (I gave it three stars on my Goodreads account), however I did enjoy the unconventional way this story was told, and the references to the other books that Ingrid hid her letters in. Each letter  is hidden in a book that mirrors the letter’s theme. It’s a short read, only 295 pages, but I found the storyline too slow, and the dark family secret a bit too predictable.

What are your thoughts if you read the novel? I’d love to hear them.image1

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

“All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we’d taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unriped secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season. But we didn’t. We shared this secret, a secret that began the spring Nadia Turner got knocked up by the pastor’s son and went to the abortion clinic downtown to take care of it”.

Britt Bennett’s debut novel The Mothers centers around a young woman grieving the recent suicide of her mother, falls into a forbidden relationship with the church pastor’s son, has an abortion and then has to live with the consequences. However, these repercussions aren’t necessarily what one might think — and therein lies the brilliant beauty of this book, which challenges the judgments we make about women’s choices, and the people who make those judgments to begin with.

The Mothers explores the concept of motherhood while transgressing the conventional definition of ‘mother’ by examining the idea that mothering is an act and not the static notion that one is a mother because they bore a child. Mothering is the main theme throughout the novel even though the ‘mother’ character is absent: Nadia and her best friend, Aubrey, are both motherless and Nadia aborts becoming a mother. Yet the act of mothering is portrayed through secondary characters: A nurse at the hospital, Aubrey’s older sister, and the women at the community church.

Delving deeper into the undertones of this novel, I will also argue that the ‘body’ imagery is also an integral part of novel’s theme, from the physical descriptions of the main characters bodies, to the actions of human destruction on the body, and the role the church body inflicts and/or empowers on the community. The Church is a significant character in The Mothers as its body represents the older and somewhat hypocritical women whose authoritative voices are heard throughout the novel, it is is also a symbol of security for Nadia’s father after her mother’s suicide, and it is a place where secrets are told and hidden within its walls.

I finished this novel over a week ago, and am still thinking about the story and the characters who Bennett makes so human. This is a powerful, evocative, and sad novel about the actions and repercussions of love, friendship, family and loss.

I highly recommend this novel and once you read it, let me know what you think!

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is a multigenerational saga that follows the lives of two half sisters and their descendants from Ghana, Africa to America over three hundred years.

Born in different villages in the 1700s, half sisters Effie and Esi live two completely separate lives; Effie marries a wealthy Englishman and lives a life of grandeur in the Cape Coast Castle, while Esi, unbeknownst to her sister, is imprisoned in the castle’s dungeon to be sold as a slave. Told in two threads, with alternating chapters between the sisters’ offsprings. One thread follows Effie’s multiracial offspring and the warfare in Ghana, as the nation wrestles with slave trade and British colonization, and the other thread, Esi’s, follows her generations as they settle in America, from the plantations, coal mines, jazz clubs, to the present day. Throughout the generations, both bloodlines endure hardship as they establish their lives and their identities.

Readers don’t spend much time with each individual character, but the breadth and scope of the story is mind-blowing. With each new chapter, the reader gets a glimpse of how the injustices of the past, whether they’re rooted in American slavery or African colonialism, build on each other to affect the future.

Gyasi’s debut novel is beautifully written, a stark contrast to the harsh injustices her characters endure. This is a powerful story that gives readers a new perspective on racial history.

(This was a difficult read on the ugliness our African American ancestors had to endure, however I highly recommend this novel.)

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