She Reads & Writes

Women • Fiction • Life

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng Hardcover Book on glass tabletop with red journal and blue pen outside

“I think you can’t imagine. Why anyone would choose a different life from the one you’ve got. Why anyone might want something other than a big house with a big lawn, a fancy car, a job in an office. Why anyone would choose anything different than what you’d choose.” – Mia to Elena in Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I LOVE this book! The characters are rich and believable, the story line is thought-provoking, and the writing isn’t too dense to read before bed.

Also, as a pregnant woman with an almost two year old son, the novel’s investigation of motherhood was poignant as I’ve transitioned into being a mother myself. Almost two years into my motherhood journey, I’m still processing what this beautiful, yet difficult, new role means to me.

But it is the two characters Mia and Elena that I’d like to dig into a bit. Mia: The struggling artist, single-mother, who is always on the move. Elena: The local journalist, married mother, who is born-raised-and-residing in the same town.

Elena has it all based on mainstream society’s standards: “A big house with a big lawn, a fancy car, a job in an office.” She has an altruistic streak that could be genuinely helpful to others, but too often is simply patronizing. She struggles to understand Mia’s almost gypsy lifestyle because it is so different from her own.

“It terrifies you. That you missed out on something. That you gave up something you didn’t know you wanted.” A sharp, pitying smile pinched the corners of her lips. “What was it? Was it a boy? Was it a vocation? Or was it a whole life?” – Mia to Elena in Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Yet, Mia’s transient lifestyle isn’t as glamorous as it might seem to some at first, nor is it as stable as her teenage daughter needs it to be. Born from an initial need to be on the run, Mia could have settled herself and her daughter down years ago. Ironically, because of her refusal to stay in one place for long, she too has given up “a whole life” she may have wanted, one with deep connection to other people. You cannot fly and plant roots at the same time.

You cannot fly and plant roots at the same time.

But isn’t that a conflicting desire so many of us struggle with at some point in our lives? In our 20s, wanting to party, but wanting a soulmate, too. In our 30s, wanting a family, but also wanting the once-taken-for-granted freedom to sleep in, fly solo, and so on. In our 40s or 50s, when that mid-life crisis hits so many people.

I see myself in both Mia and Elena and I suspect I am not alone in that. I want stability and community for myself and my family. Yet, I battle wanderlust and fear being swallowed by the priorities of suburbia.

I want stability and community for myself and my family. Yet, I battle wanderlust and fear being swallowed by the priorities of suburbia.

What do I mean by that? Well, that I fear not having enough time to play with my children, read, go for walks, write, travel, volunteer, dance, visit with friends and family, attend church, and LIVE because I am working more hours to pay for some house or car or credit card that was so “important” to have.

Or because I “need” to weed or go get some new plants for the front porch or whatever goofy thing seems like a priority that day because the neighbor recently has, or the magazine I glanced through said it’s that time of year for X, Y, and Z.

Maybe part of being an adjusted adult is finding that tricky balance between the longing to fly and plant roots, between creating stability and allowing the freedom to truly live.

Maybe part of being an adjusted adult is finding that tricky balance between the longing to fly and to plant roots, between creating stability and allowing the freedom to truly live.

Do you also struggle with this? Have any advice on finding balance? I’d be grateful for your comments below – and I’m sure some other readers will be, too!

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9 thoughts on “Swallowed by the Priorities of Suburbia

  1. aprildbest says:

    This book impacted me so much — and I definitely resonate with the tug and pull between putting roots down and wanting to escape on beautiful adventures 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amanda says:

    Beautifully said Susan. This is very much a struggle that I deal with on an almost daily basis! I like stability, but I definitely have strong wanderlust and feel like I’m missing out on something all the time. But what, what is it exactly that I’m missing? After reading your blog post I’m definitely going to go check out this book! And since I recently started forcing myself to read again after 7 years of not finishing one grown up book (my son is 7, do we think this is a coincidence?) this sounds like a great book to throw in the mix! Making myself read again is one of the ways I am trying to find balance. Escaping into another world or another person’s life is at least a temporary way to help stave off the wanderlust! I liked your FB page and look forward to reading more of your book reviews in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan M.K. Howard says:

      Thank you so much for following along and the great comment! Hmmm there just might be a coincidence with your son’s age and your reading LOL. Too funny. I’m so happy to hear you’ve picked reading back up again! You won’t regret it. And yes, “What is it exactly that I’m missing?” is a fabulous question. You literally can’t not be missing something, if you’re doing something else. So we should just focus more on doing what brings value to our and our family’s lives. Good food for thought.

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  3. Jordan Aernouts says:

    My life is overflowing with musts. Choices made giving birth to a life ultimately void of choice. In my opinion the only thing I ever can choose is who I am. How I will be. Moment to moment. Circumstance then moves towards the irrelevant. Much of life being out of my hands. That choice might be the only choice I really have.

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    1. Susan M.K. Howard says:

      I try to remind myself that while I have no choice/control over how others act, I do always have the choice about how I act.

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  4. Emily Voss says:

    Perfectly said and totally relatable. In fact, this book is one of many that I started reading and never finished because “priorities” got in the way.

    One way that I try to keep balance is traveling whenever I can! Near or far, with or without the kiddo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan M.K. Howard says:

      Near or far. Sometimes as near as between the pages of a good book! 🙂

      Like

  5. powerap2 says:

    I’ve read this one! So interesting that you point out that both the women might be missing out on something with their chosen lifestyles. I think the danger is going to far to either extreme — the wandering (but no community and no roots) versus the stability of suburbia (but no wandering… perhaps lost wonder and joy?). As a Christian I also want to check myself — how much time / energy / money am I putting into being “safe” or following the world’s standards versus being willing to self-sacrifice or choose to live / be a part of more challenging settings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan M.K. Howard says:

      Playing it safe vs. taking on challenges is especially tricky when kiddos are involved! Time in the Word, prayer, and possibly some advice from a trusted mentor is critical when making decisions of this kind. Great comment. Good food for thought.

      Like

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