Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere was on the top of my list of “popular books written by young Asian / Asian-American writers.” I was impressed by its popularity, which led to (and then was sustained by) a TV adaptation on Hulu. Celeste Ng, 39, was born in the US to immigrant parents, studied English in college, and went on to write a bestselling novel — I’m grateful that she had the audacity to succeed, encouraging aspiring writers like me.

That being said, I found that I was less impressed with the book than with its popularity. This novel tells a compelling story set in the Midwest with believable, relatable characters. But its fatal flaw, in my opinion, was that Ng’s writing is extremely heavy-handed. In my humble opinion, great writing leaves space for the reader to meet the writer half-way. Little Fires Everywhere leaves little room for the reader to read between the lines to develop intuitions — characters are drawn with descriptions that often feel cliché and prescriptive. I would not describe the writing as very nuanced or profound.

However, the novel’s saving grace is an interesting story. Upon reflection, the novel’s popularity is probably a result of its simple writing, which strikes me as perfect for TV adaptation. Though I haven’t seen the show, I could imagine a director’s glee at being able to remove the straightforward writing, replacing it with the subtleties of body language, tone of voice, set design, and more. The captivating story remains, but the viewer doesn’t feel spoon-fed in the same way that I did as a reader. Though this book grabbed my attention and encouraged me as a young Asian-American writer, it wasn’t my favorite.

~See what else I’ve been reading in 2020~

Trying to figure out who I am so that I’ll, one day, be able to write “a short bio”