Reviewed by Meghan Vermeer
Some of you may have heard of a popular new book called Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Maybe you have even heard of the television version on Hulu of the same story, made popular by Reese Witherspoon, who stars in the show herself. Both are fantastic and explore a wide variety of perspectives and themes, and I’m here to give you the skinny on all of it!
The story primarily follows two very different families: the Richardsons and the Warrens. The Richardsons are a high class family of six, and they are a creation of the town they live in—Shaker, Ohio, the most rule-following, perfect place in existence. The Warrens, just Mia and her daughter Pearl, move around frequently and find themselves in Shaker. As the story continues, the two families become involved and jumbled in more ways than I can even think of! Even though this entanglement provides enough drama in itself, the story quickly begins to center around another issue: Should Bebe Chow, a mother who had abandoned her baby at a fire station, be given custody of her daughter over the McCulloughs, a rich white family who has since taken the child in? Every character seems to have their own opinion, often influenced by a dark secret.
While the story remains quite similar in both the Hulu version and the novel, one of the biggest differences between them is that of the Warrens’s race. In the novel, Mia and Pearl’s race is never once mentioned. It is a non-issue. In fact, according to an interview I found online, Ng did not write Mia as a black woman because she didn’t feel she could do it justice. However, in the Hulu version Kerry Washington portrays Mia, and suddenly the entire show is about race and the struggles of minorities to live within white communities like Shaker. Race becomes a huge theme throughout the show, with tension between a black Mia and a white Elena Richardson, as well as the tension between the Chinese mother and the white family who wants her daughter.
Motherhood is a pivotal theme in both the novel and the show. With the court case fighting over a Chinese baby and two (almost three) of the main characters being mothers themselves, motherhood was bound to come up. However, in the show, it seems to be much more of a key point. Kerry Washington does a beautiful job of portraying the passion that a mother can feel for her child. Her performance is bound to give viewers chills.
Another huge theme that isn’t explicitly mentioned in either the show or the novel is empathy. The novel is written from an omniscient narrator’s perspective, which allows the reader to get into the heads of each character. As events in the novel unfold, readers see the characters’ emotions, reasoning, and decisions, and thus develop a sense of empathy for them, no matter how crazy their actions really are. The same thing happens in the show. It does not follow just one character; rather, the show portrays each character and tells their stories. Once again, it is easy for viewers to become ensnared in the minds of the characters, empathizing with them.
As with any re-creation of a novel, there are some differences in plot between the two versions. The biggest difference is in the ending, but I won’t spoil it for you here. Another difference would probably be the rating. I could easily recommend the novel to some of my upper level high school students, but I would be uncomfortable recommending the show, primarily because of sex scenes and innuendos that don’t show up in the novel.
Overall, both the show and the novel are wonderfully put together, and I would highly recommend them—but maybe consider reading the book first! I watched the show first, and I think it affected the way I read the book and viewed various issues, particularly the aforementioned race issues. So check out the book, and then you will be able to find the show with a Hulu subscription!