Each Family Creates A Different Portrait

Sometimes the title of the book says it all.  Usually the reader does not know the title’s full meaning until the final chapter has been read.  Little Fires Everywhere (2017) by Celeste Ng does not make you wait too long.  Ng paints a pretty good picture with her opening chapter of what happened one Saturday morning in May.  Remember, it is just the beginning of the tale.

All the major characters are mentioned in the first chapter.  As you continue reading, try keeping in mind your first impressions or thoughts.  When you have finished this novel that delves into the lives of families, go back and reread the chapter one.  Maybe your early thoughts were correct.  Maybe not.

Little Fires Everywhere takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio.  I grew up an hour or so south of one of our nation’s first planned communities.  Since I only knew of Shaker Heights from Cleveland television news stories, I was curious of how this affluent area would be portrayed.  The author grew up in Shaker Heights so she painted a pretty good word picture of the community.

Step back about a year from the opening chapter.  Mia Warren, single mom and artist, along with her 15-year-old daughter Pearl have just appeared on the scene in their old VW Rabbit loaded with everything they own.  Their first and last month’s rent plus deposit has been paid in cash.  The keys to their new apartment have been handed over by the Richardson’s who own the rental.

Here begins Pearl’s connection to the Richardson family whose roots go back in Shaker Heights history.  15-year-old Moody Richardson is the first to meet Pearl and Mia.  He comes upon them as they are trying to assemble a bed.  Moody ends up lending a hand and is surprised to learn Pearl has never had a room of her own living a nomadic life.  He and Pearl hit if off right away.

Time spent with Moody led to Pearl meeting his popular sister Lexie who is a high school senior.  She also gets to know his handsome, sports loving brother Tripp.  Pearl also meets Moody’s mother Elena and Mr. Richardson, Moody’s dad.  Eventually Pearl meets the youngest member of the family, 14-year-old Izzy, the sister everyone thinks she acts somewhat bizarre.

Friendships are formed as Pearl feels welcomed and begins to spend more and more time at the Richardson’s.  Mia is thrilled that Pearl has formed friendships because this is their final stop.  No more moving.  Elena decides it would be perfect if Mia would work a few hours a week at their house.  It was difficult to say no to Mrs. Richardson so Mia agreed to help out.

It is through this work agreement Mia gets to know Izzy who rarely hangs around with the other kids.  Let’s just say she steps to the beat of a different drummer than the rest of the Richardson’s.  Her history does show she deals with life differently than her siblings.    When she was 10 years old Izzy tried to set free all the stray cats at the humane society.  Her way of protesting her dance lessons also left an impression. Mia and Izzy get to know and understand each other.

All appears to be going smoothly until Mia lends a hand to a coworker at the restaurant.  Mia suggests ways for her friend May Ling to get her story out to the public.  Sides in the story are drawn.  Mia and Elena Richardson are on opposite sides.

Elena is furious with Mia.  If it were not for Mia, all would be going well for close friends of the Richardson’s.  Elena puts her journalism credentials to work and tries to locate any information in Mia’s background that will hurt her.

A nugget of info is found that led to what appears to be a secret Mia has wanted to keep quiet for several years.  More little fires?  Remember, go back and reread that first chapter when you have finished the final page.

Another portrait of an entirely different kind of family can be found in The Story of Arthur Truluv (2017) by Elizabeth Berg.  If you feel you need a break from the bickering on television news, the pettiness and opinions on Facebook, or books where cruelty and mayhem seem to be the big sellers, then this may just the book for you.

The title captured my attention.  Truluv…what kind of name is that!  Just as I did, you will find out how Arthur Moses became Arthur Truluv when you spend some time getting to know him.

Arthur is 85 years old and definitely not your typical grouchy old man often found between the pages of books.  He has recently lost his wife Nola and truly misses her.  Now it is just Arthur and Gordon, the cat.  Without Nola, things are just not the same for Arthur.

One way Arthur deals with his loneliness is by packing a sandwich, hopping a bus to the cemetery so he can have lunch with Nola.  He does this each day.

Lately while enjoying his daily chat, he has noticed a young girl sitting under a tree or taking photos with her phone.  One day as Arthur was preparing to head home, he tried waving to her.  But the girl’s reaction appeared to be one of fear.

What Arthur does not know is that Maddy did not mean to react that way to the wave.  She was not afraid.  Sometimes things just do not come out right for her.  Mandy plans to speak with Arthur if she sees him again.

Spiked hair Maddy is 18.  She has not had the greatest of childhoods.  Her mother died in an accident shortly after Maddy was born.  Maddy’s dad never really overcame his grief.  For 18 years he has remained very distant, no shows of affection, just provided what was needed to live.  Maddy feels more like a burden to him than a daughter.

Maddy is shy and often the brunt of jokes.  In order to survive her school days, Maddy skips lunch and heads to the cemetery.  She finds that it is easier than facing being shunned in the school cafeteria.

Arthur and Maddy eventually connect through their visits to the cemetery.  They begin by watching each other which led to waving.  Through those waves, Arthur finally feels he could invite her to his home.  He makes her a grilled cheese sandwich along with some soup.

Maddy eventually moves in with Arthur.  She calls him Truluv because of his love of Nola.  It begins to feel as what a home should.  But there is much more to the story than Arthur and Maddy.  Meet Lucille, Frank, and Anderson.

Lucille Howard is Arthur’s neighbor.  All her life she has waited for the one she loved, her high school sweetheart, Frank Pearson.  Frank does come back into Lucille’s life but only for a couple weeks.  In those two weeks she learned that Frank had loved her all along.  It was a wonderful two weeks.

Anderson is lucky to get a mention in this review! He is not deserving of it.  You will understand when you read the book.

This much I will tell you, Arthur, Maddy, and Lucille found themselves a family even though they have so little in common.  They gave each other love, hope, a listening ear, a sense of belonging, and purpose.  Sounds perfect to me.

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