From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned–from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren–an enigmatic artist and single mother–who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood–and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.
I was not intending to read this book, but after watching the TV series, what eventually convinced me otherwise was the fact that… it seemed like my sympathies laid on the wrong side. Between the readers, there will always be Team A or Team B (remember Twilight?) but usually this happens when both options are reasonable and do not fall under the “villain” category. After watching the TV series, completely empathizing with Elena Richardson and almost hating Mia Warren, I discovered with shock that most of the people had a complete opposite opinion. Like.. Elena was the bad one?! Did we really watch the same thing?
So I started the book just to see if it will leave me with the same perspective or offer some additional details that might explain why most of the people had a different point of view.
Although you might expect the opposite when it comes to a book versus its adaptation, I felt like this time, the screenplay offered somehow an ampler spectrum of the main characters’ colors. In the book, Elena’s actions are clearly throwing her in the villain’s role, without giving too much depth to her reasons. By comparison, Mia’s lack of color makes you sympathetic to her cause without the justification of any actions, but simply because of the role she’s playing: the single, poor, but dignified mother that’s just trying to raise her daughter in the best way and… doesn’t really do much else.
In the TV series, my perception was different. Mia is selfish, sacrificing her daughter’s happiness and stability on the altar of her own career dreams. She stabs Elena in the back, she sets off a custody battle because of her own past trauma and without actually thinking about the well-being of the baby, she subtly manipulates and uses people around her. Yes, some of Elena’s actions are questionable as well, but only after she’s been provoked by Mia and usually have a “the end justifies the means” vibe. But overall, Elena just fights in a fairer way, with more direct hits. And even though her portrait might be simpler than Mia’s, who is this hipster-ish, gipsy-at-heart, mysterious and misunderstood artist, I stand by Elena’s cause. Although she sacrificed her own dreams for the sake of the family, I did love the fact that she had a strong attitude and turned the situation in the best way, without victimizing herself, despite having some regrets at an unconscious level. Meanwhile, Mia sacrifices everyone around her (her parents, the Ryan couple, Bebe Chow, the disputed baby, her own daugheter) for the sake of her own dreams and beliefs, without any doubts or remorse.
I also loved the portrayal of the other characters more in the TV series than in the book. All of the side characters and all of the kids’ experiences (both Pearl’s and the Richardsons’) are more lively and intense, you get to know them deeper and overall, the TV series just does it better. I feel like the book is covered by a veil that makes everything and everyone faded and blury, while the screenplay removed that veil and allowed the action to shine bright and colorful.