Tag Archives: adult fiction

Show vs. Book: Little Fires Everywhere

It’s 1997-1998 in Shaker Heights, Ohio. It’s an upper middle class community that upholds the belief that anti-racism is equivalent to colorblindness. That’s where we meet the Richardsons, a white, wealthy family: Bill and Elena and their four children, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy. It’s also where we meet the Warrens, a lower-class family made up of a single mother and her daughter, Mia and Pearl. Elena rents her rental home to Mia and Pearl. That’s how Pearl meets Mood. The two are the same age and quickly become good friends.

The two families begin to intertwine as Mia starts working as a housekeeper for the Richardsons to make a little extra cash and keep her eye on Pearl, who is wooed by the wealth and status of the Richardsons and spends much of her time at their home. As Pearl warms up to Elena, badly wanting that life, so too does Izzy warm up to Mia. Izzy is the black sheep of the Richardson family, the one the others don’t seem to understand. She comes to love Mia and her life and career as an artist and begins to spend time with her as an apprentice.

Another side job of Mia’s is a waitressing job at a Chinese restaurant, where she becomes friendly with her co-worker Bebe Chow. Bebe gave up her baby daughter when she was an infant and left her outside a firehouse. Mia later puts two-and-two together and discovers that Bebe’s daughter has since been adopted by friends of the Richardsons. The intertwining of the Richardsons and Warrens becomes mangled as Mia helps Bebe in a legal battle to win her daughter back from Elena’s good friend. And there is just as much intermingling and mangling happening between Pearl and the Richardson brood.

There are figurative fires sparking everywhere throughout the book, in Mia’s backstory, in Lexie’s current story and so on and so on. They all erupt in a literal fire engulfing the Richardsons’ home, which is used as a framing device bookending the story.

The show takes the bones of the book and portrays all this excellently onscreen with the talent of Reese Witherspoon as Elena Richardson and Kerry Washington as Mia Warren. (Not to mention the phenomenal kids who play the teenaged children.) But the show makes some serious changes, and I actually think most are for the better.

The book is not bad. In fact, it’s freaking great. Its themes around race are centered on Bebe Chow and how she is treated in the justice system as a poor Asian woman compared to the rich, white people. The TV series on Hulu, however, takes race a huge step further by making the Warrens black. Mia and Pearl are never explicitly said to be black in the novel. The mention of Pearl’s frizzy hair is as close as the author gets. By making them black, many more stories lines explicitly touch on race in the series, broadening the themes of the novel beyond wealth and socioeconomic status. The series came out a few months before the death of George Floyd, so it’s impossible to have known how much the series would resonate now, in retrospect, but it certainly does.

In terms of plot, the series adds a lot more backstory for Elena and a few more subplots between the children – which also touch on race. But the biggest change the series makes is the way it unravels all of the secrets the characters are keeping: about abortions, lovers, postpartum depression, childbearing, finances. In the book, many of the secrets remain just that: secrets. While a handful of characters escape Shaker Heights at the end of the novel, so many things are left undiscussed and unaddressed. We, the readers, are left to assume whether or not those conversations ever happen. In the TV series, however, no one can keep their mouth shut! The secrets not only come out but are hurled at other characters like giant fireballs across a room, only building the deep-seeded rage between several people and leading to even more outlandish actions.

When it comes to the massive, literal fire at the end (and technically beginning) of the story, it’s clear in the series that there is a handful of people involved in setting it. It takes the entire series to finally bond these characters together, and when they comes together in a spiteful act of arsonistic rage, it is ridiculously satisfying in a way that the ending of the book isn’t.

Get Little Fires Everywhere in paperback for $8.67.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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Review: Before We Were Yours

Recap: The location is a hospital in the South. The time is the 1930s. The twins delivered did not fare well. The parents are destroyed.

And now here we are, in present day, following the life of Avery Stafford. The 30-something lawyer is used to living in the limelight of her father and his long political reign. But now he is sick, and she is forced to prepare to take his spot in politics as he also deals with an ongoing scandal involving nursing homes. In visiting her grandmother at one, Avery meets another elderly woman who is completely taken with her. A misplaced bracelet and a curious family photo forces Avery to return to the woman as she itches to learn more about her and whether this woman is somehow connected to her own family.

Now we are back to the 1930s, and Rill Foss is left in charge of her brother and sisters after their parents rushed to the hospital. Living on the river in Tennessee, they are now orphans as their parents never return. They are scooped up and taken in by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, and they face every form of abuse: verbal, physical, sexual. Living in a constant state of fear, Rill feels compelled to take care of her siblings, but there’s only so much a 12-year-old girl can do.

The stories of Rill and Avery intertwine more and more throughout Before We Were Yours in a beautiful and mysterious way, but it’s the fact that this historical fiction novel is based on true events from the real horrors of adoption in the 1930s that make this book so haunting.

Analysis: One of the characters we come to know in the book is the woman who run’s the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, Georgia Tann. But Georgia Tann was a real woman, known for having made adoption in the United States an industry and for charging families an exorbitant amount of money for adopting children. These children were bought and sold, practically as a form of slavery and treated traumatically in the process.

Author Lisa Wingate tells this story through the lens of a little girl during the time and through the eyes of a present-day woman who, like many of us, had no idea any of this was happening in the 1930s.

Despite the horrors, Wingate does an excellent job of keeping the reader invested in the characters, curious about what happens next and still manages to offer hope through the love we see shine through her characters. Before We Were Yours takes a bit of time to get into, but once you start to put together the pieces of the puzzle and realize that Rill and Avery and the old woman she meets are all connected, the journey to get there is worth every word.

MVP: Rill. She has been through so much and has been forced to grow up very fast at a very young age. She has no choice. But she does it with vigor and comes out on the other side.

Get Before We Were Yours now in paperback for $10.29.

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Review: The Storyteller’s Secret

Recap: It’s after Jaya’s third miscarriage that her marriage falls apart. A journalist in New York, she is at a loss. She no longer has her husband to turn to for support, and her relationship with her mother has always been difficult, lacking love and support. It’s around this time that Jaya learns the grandfather she never knew is dying. He lives in India, where her parents were born, but her mother has no interest in returning home to see her father. Confused and alone, desperately seeking comfort and support in her family, Jaya decides to visit India, to get away from her own problems and to meet her grandfather and learn why he sent her mother away to America many years ago.

By the time she arrives, he has already passed. Inside her mother’s childhood home, she instead finds Ravi, her mother and grandmother’s servant. Ravi welcomes Jaya instantly and over the course of several weeks shows Ravi around India and tells her about her grandparents. It’s a long saga about love, secrets and finding one’s own path. It’s a story that even Jaya’s mother knows nothing about. It’s a story that changes her perception of her life, world and family forever. In looking to the past, Jaya is able to better understand her present and re-shape her future.

Analysis: In its simplest form, the plot of The Storyteller’s Secret sounds like the start of Eat, Pray, Love: woman’s life falls apart, woman sets out on journey across the world, woman finds herself. But Secret also adds the element of the past. The story also changes time periods and storytellers, switching back and forth between Jaya and her grandmother, Amisha, decades earlier. It gives the story an extra layer of depth and mystery that the read is dying to uncover. I found I could not put this book down, desperately wanting to know what happened in Jaya’s family history and how it affected her today.

The title of the book is a reference to so much storytelling that’s happening here: the narration from both Jaya and Amish, the story of Jaya’s past as told to her by Ravi, and the storytelling that Jaya does as a journalist and that her grandmother used to do as a writer and writing teacher. The parallels between Jaya and her unknown grandmother are beautiful and help to deepen the bond between Jaya and her mother. The story is moving in its statements about different cultures and especially womanhood: relationships between women, the strength of women and the sacrifices they make for their families.

The Storyteller’s Secret is a powerful, unstoppable read that makes you laugh, cry, think and feel. A truly excellent story.

MVP: Ravi. While the women are the focus of this book, Ravi may be the real star, the glue that binds together the woman of generations past and present, telling the stories that Amisha is unable to tell in her death. His generosity and love knows no bounds.

Get The Storyteller’s Secret in paperback now for $8.97.

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Review: The Ocean At the End of the Lane

ocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_coverRecap: A man has returned to his hometown for a funeral, but somehow something pulls him away from the funeral to an old neighbor’s home. He finds himself there, chatting with the familiar women who live there, but Lettie, the little girl he once knew who used to live there is no longer there. He can’t remember where she is or what ever happened to her. But as he sits by the pond behind her home, it all comes back to him.

The story turns into a long flashback to the man’s childhood. He recalls several captivating nights that are hard to believe he could ever forget. It starts with the memory of a man who killed himself in his father’s car parked at the end of his street. The man had gambled away all his friend’s money. This opens the world of the supernatural to the world of the natural, and suddenly strange things happen to the boy: a coin lodges in his throat; a worm is stuck in his foot; and his family hires a new babysitter. The babysitter turns out to be a personification of all the bad and of the supernatural infiltrating its way into the boy’s life. Her name is Ursula, and the boy is horrified.

He escapes as often as he can to his neighbors’ house, where Lettie lives. Lettie, her mother and grandmother have magical powers that allow them to manage the supernatural making its way into their world. But as his world falls apart thanks to Ursula, the boy isn’t so sure he, his family or Lettie and her family will ever be safe.

Analysis: The magic and fantasy of this novel threw me off initially. At first, I thought the author was writing in metaphors, but somewhere along the way, I realized everything was meant to be taken literally. Fantastical stories like this aren’t typically my favorite, but this one was intriguing. I didn’t know where it was going and I was interested enough to keep reading and find out. The ending turned out to be much sadder than I expected for not only the main character, but also for his magical friend Lettie.

I appreciated the end — however sad it may have been — for its acknowledgement of things coming full circle and the notion that childhood events have a lasting impact on one’s adult life. The book’s final moments are fairly open-ended, but because of the mystery of the story and the inherent enchantment that that mystery brings, it works. Ocean left me feeling wistful for answers and childhood — wistful in a good way.

MVP: Lettie. She’s a young girl with an old soul. Without giving anything away, we later find out why. But she is strong, and just the kind of person to give the story’s main character all the confidence he can muster.

Get The Ocean at the End of the Lane in paperback for $8.51.

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