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Episode #2: My Reactions to Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

I just had to come to you today with Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires Everywhere”, her 2017 novel and New York Times Best Seller. It also became a Hulu original series in 2020, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. *SPOILER ALERTS!* I recommend you listen after you have read or watched “Little Fires Everywhere” – the novel and the series are a bit different! This story called to me because we get to listen inside the minds of the characters and what word of drives them – especially Elena Richardson, who is uptight and rigid with herself and her 4 children, while Mia Warren is a free-spirited and private artist and mother of one, both living in the idyllic planned community, Shaker Heights. The novel and series cover some hard topics: racism, classism, motherhood, entitlement and mental health stigmas. 

I think there are three key areas where Elena and Mia – at first politely and quietly – butt heads then later explode: 

1. In the way they react to/see Izzy, Elena’s youngest; Elena is frustrated with Izzy, who often gets into trouble and doesn’t “act the part” Elena’s other 3 children play, just like Elena herself did and does; this makes Izzy “difficult” and she suffers from unidentified mental health issues in my mind; Mia sees Izzy for being creative and caring and in need of an adult who understands her just the way she is. 

2. In the tiny civil war in Shaker Heights between a Chinese immigrant vs a wealthy white local family: Who should raise a baby, May Ling, whose mother, Bebe – in a state of fear of being deported as an undocumented immigrant, having been abandoned by the baby’s father, not knowing health resources available to her and experiencing severe post-partum depression – or Rosemarie – the married, wealthy, long time Shaker Heights resident and friend of Elena who had always wanted to have children, who had had multiple miscarriages over the years an who had begun the process to adopt Bebe’s baby, May Ling, and who had renamed Bebe’s baby, Mirabelle (which means “wonderful” in Latin and May Ling means “beautiful and delicate or beautiful bell” in Chinese). Elena thinks Mirabelle belongs with Rosemarie – because she and her husband are already providing a better life for her than Bebe could have and the social stigma of mental health. Mia thinks Bebe deserves to raise her own baby, embracing her Asian roots and that Bebe should be “forgiven” for having made decisions when she was not being treated for her post-partum depression and now with an attorney to help her through the process. *We soon find out why Mia fights for the mother’s biological rights.* In the meantime, I had a reaction to my own experience with depression post-divorce: it was situational and temporary and I got the care and meds I needed, took a short term disability off of work and yet, some 10 plus years later when I began announcing my pregnancy to family members, including my cousin in Brooklyn, my previous depression came up as it related to me becoming a mom. When I told my cousin that I was having a baby, she said, “What about your depression?” I was like, “What?? You mean the depression over 10 years ago when I was temporarily depressed after my sudden split from my husband??” Anyway, Izzy sides not with her mother but with Mia and Bebe and in court the case plays out as very much of a race and a class issue. While the novel is set in the 1990s, I think scenarios like this could be and are still happening today. Just because a white and wealthy family can’t have babies of their own, doesn’t mean they *deserve* to take them away from families of people of color and immigrants just because they’re in a lower economic class than they are. I was so upset for Bebe and for the thought of her and her baby not being able to be together. The arrogance and entitlement of Rosemarie and Elena fucking pissed me off! 

3. The explosion further boils behind the scenes. Mia has secrets and Elena decides to dig. When she digs, she is able to find out something that is none of her damn business and she tries to use it against Mia. Turns out when Mia was trying to put herself through art school in NYC, the funding for her program ran out and she has to figure out a way to pay tuition. As luck would have it, she’s approached by a couple – the Ryans – who ask her to be the surrogate AND egg donor for their baby. They will provide an apartment for her and cover her medical expenses. All Mia has to do is inseminate herself with Mr. Ryan’s sperm AND with her own egg – create then carry the baby and finally, hand over the baby – her own baby – for an undisclosed fee. *Spoiler alert warning!* Mia bonds with the baby growing inside her and decides to tell the Ryans that she lost the baby. She refunds them all expenses and moves to the west coast with her baby girl, who she names Pearl. (Pearl means “a gem of the sea”.) Pearl and Mia eventually move to Shaker Heights when Pearl is a teenager, where they have met and become embedded with Elena and family and the civil war custody case. Now Elena explodes with this secret that Mia has worked so hard to keep quiet from everyone, including Pearl. I was so upset at Elena accusing Mia of being a thief basically, when Pearl was her baby, too – and she refunded the Ryan’s in my mind minimal *investment* because all the husband did was donate his sperm and he and his wealthy wife paid Mia to do what Mrs. Ryan could not give herself and her husband. Just because they were wealthy and could provide a *better* life for the baby, Elena sided with them, too. 

In my heart I feel the novel and the series both end well. They end a little differently from each other. In both cases, Elena has to face what at least one of her 4 children thinks of her perfect life in her perfect town and perfect house, while Mia and Pearl drive off on their next adventure. Elena has effectively run Mia and Pearl out of town in the night. Mia and Pearl are free and good people and closer to each other than ever – as Elena watches her house burn, along with her perfect life.

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