Size Doesn’t Matter (189): Little Fires Everywhere; You Bring the Distant Near

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (189): Little Fires Everywhere; You Bring the Distant NearLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Narrator: Jennifer Lim
Length: 11 hrs, 30 mins
Published by Penguin Audio on September 12, 2017
Genres: Historical
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, the intertwined stories of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the 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.

Little Fires Everywhere only sounded nominally up my personal alley, but I was mega impressed with Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, so I had to try her sophomore novel. Once again, I’m impressed with the quality of the writing and characterization, but Little Fires Everywhere was less of a me book.

There’s a balance in this novel between the teen children and the adult parents. Unsurprisingly, I found myself much more interested in the teen dramas than the adult. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be remotely shocked to hear that I wanted to hear more about Pearl and Trip than I did about the custody battle over the baby. Since the book’s focus is more on the parents and the custody battle, I was a bit disappointed in the lack of emotional resolution in many of the teen plot lines, but I can see why this book is fantastic for readers who trend the other way.

Ng excels at putting racial tensions front and center in a very subtle way. They’re in some ways hidden in the background, which makes the novel not feel remotely preachy while it also very effectively makes some great points. And I think Ng really hits the nail on the head with the trial and the way everyone, including the reader, is left unsure with precisely what the right answer is in a case like this. Certainly I wasn’t completely happy with the judge’s decision, but it’s also not overtly wrong. Little Fires Everywhere highlights the unpleasant tensions and lies that exist in even the most perfect of communities (with Shaker Heights having been established as an idyllic town) and how little some of that has changed in the past 20-30 years.

Little Fires Everywhere suffers mostly from not being the ideal book for me. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think it will particularly stick with me. Readers who are more interested in baby story lines will absolutely get more out of it than I did; so much of this is about maternal feeling and parenting, and I really can’t relate to that on a personal level.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Size Doesn’t Matter (189): Little Fires Everywhere; You Bring the Distant NearYou Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Narrator: Sneha Mathan, Shivali Bhammer, Priya Ayyar, N'Jameh Camara, Zehra Jane Naqvi
Length: 7 hrs, 14 mins
Published by Listening Library on September 12, 2017
Genres: Historical, Romance
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible

Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture--for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve Bengal tigers and her Bengali identity-- award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.

Ever since I saw this beautiful cover, I’ve wanted You Bring the Distant Near. Yes, I’m shallow. So what? It’s okay because this time it actually didn’t lead me astray. You Bring the Distant Near verges on adult fiction rather than YA, but it’s a beautifully done family saga in microcosm either way.

In You Bring the Distant Near, Perkins focuses on five women in one family, with a particular focus on their romances. You start out with Sonia and Tara as teens, immigrating from the UK to the US and trying to find a place in US culture. From there, the narrative moves to Shanti and Anna, Sonia and Tara’s daughters. Sonia and Tara’s mother Ranee has a couple of chapters throughout, in which she comes to accept American culture and embrace her multicultural family. With the age of the protagonists and the way the subjects are handled, it seems more aimed at an adult audience than a teen one, but I didn’t really mind.

A story like this is really hard to pull off well, especially in such a short novel, but Perkins succeeds. The narration trades back in forth between the various girls, and I was really surprised by how much I ended up feeling invested in each narrative. It helps that they tend to center on romance, while not being about romance as much as family. Of all the perspectives, I likes Sonia and Shanti’s the best, I think, but I was surprised by how much I came to care about Ranee, who initially I didn’t like at all. It’s just really well done, and it highlights some of the positives of American culture, while not presenting the fairy tale version that absolutely doesn’t exist.

Though I had a print ARC, I ended up choosing the audiobook, and I’m glad I did. It’s always lovely to get a full cast for a multiple POV book, and I really loved the variety of voices and accents. Admittedly, some of the narrators were not so great at doing accents not their own (the narrator who reads for Sonia especially struggles with American accents).

So yeah, if you’re looking for the typical YA narrative, this may not please you, but it’s brilliantly done and multicultural af, so I would absolutely recommend it otherwise.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


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