The Reading Quilt: Celeste Ng
Like a family crest, secrets are kept close to the vest. Often the silence that perpetuates a family’s secrets becomes the invisible thread in that crest. In the novel Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, a bestselling author, introduces us to a cast of characters who bear secrets in various ways.
Mia Warren, a transient artist and a gentle soul, drives her secret to Ohio in the passenger seat of her tan Volkswagen, shaking up the idyllic, affluent suburban neighborhood of Shaker Heights.
Each month, “The Reading Quilt” provides a short review of a book that a teacher may use to spark conversations about culture and race, along with a learning activity that may help students understand human behavior. Using the acronym QUILT, we offer readers information about the Quality of writing, and Imaginative plot, as well as a mini Lesson plan, and Talking points that stem from the book’s premise. This month, our focus is on author Celeste Ng.
Ng was born in Pittsburgh. She also spent some time in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. Warrensville Township, a location featured in Ng’s book, is southeast of Cleveland. Settlers arrived in the wooded area in 1808.
A graduate of Harvard University, Ng went on to earn a master’s degree at the University of Michigan. Her writing career began with essays that appeared in publications such as the New York Times and The Guardian. Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You (2014), was a New York Times bestseller.
Quality: In Little Fires Everywhere, Ng details the lives of young people who are quizzical about the concept of poverty. Ng writes: “Moody almost could not believe that people could be so poor.” Moody’s family, the Richardsons, has the opportunity to rub shoulders with poor people. How his parents deal with the new relationship with “the poor people” underscores the Richardsons’ family values. Twenty-five different publications named this novel the best book of the year, and it won the Goodreads Choice Award for 2017 in Fiction.
Universal theme: The themes of identity and belonging are poignant in this novel. The narrative sizzles with characters who wish to find a comfortable place in society and others who believe they set the standards for the American Dream.
Imaginative plot: In a writing style that could be described as plain or even pithy, Ng spins a story of two families from different sides of the tracks without extraneous details. She provides a complete and intriguing backstory in the book that brings to light hotbed subjects such as interracial adoption, socioeconomic status, and personal transformation. As an added bonus, Ng details social interactions and moral decisions that are meant to make her readers uncomfortable.
Lesson plan: Filled with controversial topics like abortion, transracial adoption, and obsession, the storylines in this novel could spark heated classroom debates. The obligations that the rich have to the poor is the most benign of the topics addressed in this novel.
Talking points: Socioeconomic status is the totality of a person’s wealth, goods, and access to information and social resources. Socioeconomic status plays an important role in the lives of adolescents and their self-perceptions, as well as their perceptions of the external world. Ng offers a novel featuring adolescents who are socializing with clear knowledge of the disparities between the haves and have-nots. The juxtaposition of the two social statuses creates a tension that is realistic, albeit uncomfortable. Listed below are possible talking topics that could help young readers process the novel.
- Are rich people obligated to share their wealth with poor people? If so, in what ways?
- When does socioeconomic status become an obstacle in a friendship?
- Should parents of high socioeconomic status find opportunities for their children to socialize with kids who are less fortunate?
- At what point in your life did you recognize and understand socioeconomic status?
- How would you describe your social class?
Dr. Rachel Slaughter earned her doctoral degree in Cognitive Studies in Reading at Widener University. Her dissertation explores multicultural literature in private schools through the lens of Critical Pedagogy. The books she has written include one for fathers and sons that provides fun activities to promote reading: “Daddy, REAd to Me (DREAM): The Virtual Trophy Abecedarium and Journal for Fathers and Sons.” To contact her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For other multicultural literary suggestions, follow her on Google Plus or go to literacyuniversity.org.