At first glance, the quirky, overworked narrator [of this] novel seems to be on the cusp of a perfect life: she is studying for a prestigious PhD in chemistry that will make her Chinese parents proud (or at least satisfied), and her successful, supportive boyfriend has just proposed to her. But instead of feeling hopeful, she is wracked with ambivalence: the long demanding hours at the lab have created an exquisite pressure cooker, and she doesn’t know how to answer the marriage question. When is all becomes too much and her life plan veers off course, she finds herself on a new path of discoveries about everything she thought she knew.
I wish I could have given this a better rating – I really wish I liked it more. Overall, I didn’t have the best time reading it, but there were definitely redeemable elements that make me appreciate it. This short novel is also written in a very interesting way, which I found to be unique, but not altogether my preferred style.
Chemistry revolves around a nameless narrator, and we follow her trains of thought as she navigates her PhD in chemistry and possible upcoming nuptials. She has a Chinese background and the ever so prevalent Asian Parents. As she continues to endure more of the pressure from all angles, how will she survive, and what will happen to her?
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 don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up this book, but I was honestly blown away by what I read! Immediately after picking it up, my friend told me: it’s slow-paced, but with amazing character development (I totally agree). Well alright, I thought, I can handle slow-paced. But in all honesty, I was fascinated by the story from the get-go, and didn’t look back at all. It was a complete page-turner for me, and this novel truly has a lot to offer.
Little Fires Everywhere follows a couple of protagonists, but it mainly follows the story of teenaged Pearl and her mother Mia moving into Shaker Heights, a peculiar community with tightly controlled rules and regulations to maintain the image of a perfect community. They rent a house from the affluent Richardsons, and slowly but surely, the juxtaposed family lives (think Parasite!) mix together until the point where one cannot tell whose has melted into whose. This idyllic situation gets torn asunder when the community is divided on the custody of an Asian baby – which is better for the baby: a struggling single biological mother who abandoned her or an affluent white family so very desperate for a child?
This novel truly explores all the intricacies of such a situation, and just how complex it can get between the ethics, legalities and human empathy. Meanwhile, trouble stirs between the Richardsons and their tenants when the town conflict arises. Little Fires Everywhere is truly an apt title (and is in fact, mentioned on like, the third page) and fires and flames are a huge theme throughout this whole story. Ng makes great use of imagery and symbolism, and I truly enjoyed how the story was so cleverly woven together. If you keep an eye out, there are so many little tidbits to catch, and what could be more exciting than all these Easter eggs left for you by the author?!
As part of the Asian community myself, I quickly found myself wondering what I myself would have done or thought in that situation, and I was honestly just as stumped as everyone in the book. I can understand both sides, and see the unfortunate situation that has arisen between two equally desperate parties. I thought this issue was well addressed and really explored an issue that is more rare in the literary world, and so in that sense I am glad that Ng brings it to life in such an interesting manner. I think regardless of race and background, you too will find yourself caught in the situation presented, unable to fully decide which side should have the upper hand. Find out for yourself on this exciting adventure!
There’s also a TV series based on this book (I believe only on Hulu) – if any of you have read the book and watched the series, let me know! I am unable to access Hulu here, but I would love to know how the adaptation is. Please comment below if you know!
Another book I would highly recommend! Little Fires Everywhere follows the story of a poor nomadic family renting from an affluent one in a quirky town full of rules, which ends up divided over the custody of an abandoned baby. Full of deep characters that are explored ingeniously, and complicated intertwining relationships, this novel also includes some discussion of racial issues and politics! I would especially recommend this to Asian readers, as I think the conflict at hand would be truly relatable, and is not a topic often explored. But regardless, I found that this was a beautiful and evocative story, truly highlighting the highs and low of humanity.
The Silent Patient is a shocking psychological thriller of a woman’s act of violence against her husband—and of the therapist obsessed with uncovering her motive.
“Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word…”
This story follows the criminal psychotherapist, Theo Faber, who has long waited for a chance to work with Alicia Berenson, to discover the truth behind her eternal silence, and her motivations for killing her husband. The plotline starts off innocuously as one might expect, we follow the point of view of Theo as he picks up his life to head to The Grove where Alicia is being treated. When he gets there, he discovers layers and layers of secrecy which he must unravel to find the real cause of Alicia’s silence and the truth of that fateful day. Occasionally letting us peer into Alicia’s diary in parallel to Theo’s point of view, Michaelides weaves an exciting tale, one that straps you down into the seat of the rollercoaster and doesn’t let go until the exciting finish.
3.5 Drink Me Potions
I found myself quite enthralled with the premise of this book. One of the main driving mysteries is the last painting that Alicia paints before she was locked away. It was titled Alcestis and is based on a Greek tragedy – a heroine of self-sacrifice. This is the narrative that is the key to unlocking Alicia Berenson. What on earth drove the painter to the point of murder? And how can it possibly be related to a heroine of self-sacrifice? Was it really possible for a move like murder to be altruistic in some way? This was one of the main questions I had throughout the whole book, driving me to read along, to find out what happened.
We quickly find out that Theo has issues of his own, a rough childhood with a tormenting father, and very keen to escape the shadows of the past. The novel really explores the theme of the past being an important precedent for the future. Many psychological and psychiatric themes are laid out in the many characters that are introduced. This also really tended to blur the boundary lines and create a type of moral ambiguity present in each character – how much can you blame a person for acting according to what their past has defined them to be? I found myself wonder what I’d be like in each of the character’s shoes, or how I would personally react to the same situations.
To be honest, I found some of the characters rather shallow and underdeveloped. A little bit inconsistent even, sometimes. That being said, it wasn’t badly written or anything like that. Some of the characters and actions just seemed a little bit unnecessary, or a bit out of place – this may have been to place red herrings for the readers, but I wasn’t completely convinced. This novel is kind of a hybrid between a thriller and a mystery, it has the setting of a murder mystery narrative but is also of course written in a first person POV that keeps us on our toes at every turn.
All that being said, I actually really enjoyed the ride! I’m also a sucker for Greek mythology, so that really rung true for me. If I think about the minor details and little twists and study them individually, I don’t find that I really appreciated the mall that much. However, if you are talking about the the holistic experience of a thriller “ride”, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even if I was able to see the little twists that were coming up, I still felt like the way that it was written was very exciting for me, and the parallel chronological storylines particularly captured my attention. After all, I did finish this novel in one day!
The Silent Patient follows the deceivingly perfect life of Alicia Berenson and her descent into madness and murder, and how a psychotherapist comes to save her from her self-imposed silence. More and more secrets are revealed as Theo dives into Alicia’s past, uncovering her own troubled childhood, not unlike his own. And how does Alicia’s famous painting Alcestis tie into all this? This is a very exciting thriller from beginning to end – if you enjoy the uncovering of secrets and watching a puzzle come together, this is definitely one that you will enjoy!