Fans of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere have been anxiously awaiting her latest release, Our Missing Hearts, for five long years. So, you can imagine that these readers (myself included) will be devouring all of its 352 pages pretty quickly. But then the agonizing wait begins for the next release.
My solution? Devour books that are Celeste Ng-adjacent. And what is that you may ask? The "It" factor in Ng’s books, in my humble opinion, comes down to the family. The beautiful, complicated interrelationships in a family with all the joys and pressure held within them. So, once you turn the last page of Hearts, check out the selections on this list that study the ups and downs of being a member of a family and what that says about us as a society and our struggles of being human.
Everything I Never Told You
This may seem an obvious choice but this first, oft overlooked, work of Ng should not be missed. Its worth is in more than just the opportunity to sit with Ng’s thoughts one more time. This book is heartbreaking and moving and somehow leaves you with hope by the time you close it.
The story opens with an immutable fact: Lydia, the golden child of Marilyn and James Lee, has been found dead. As we witness her parents and brother search to find out what happened to Lydia, the unspoken truths about each of them come to light. Families hold our biggest fan base but sometimes the adoration comes at a cost. Each member of the family has their own dreams and own trauma and ultimately, the death of one of them brings understanding to them all.
Emma Starling knows a lot about carrying the hopes and dreams of others on her shoulders. She has been gifted with the power to heal, at least for small things like rashes and joint pains. But when it comes to healing her father who suffers from a mysterious neurologic issue, there is nothing she can do other than move back home to support him.
Thus begins this curious story of family that happens to take place inside a plot that includes magical realism and callbacks to a real-life eccentric figure, Ernest Harold Banes, who collected live wild animals as pets. And don’t be put off by the narration from the local cemetery inhabitants. The oddness of this novel is endearing and at its heart, the message is about acceptance of oneself and the ones you love the most.
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything
Continuing on a theme that we all play a certain role within a family that no one else can pull off, this selection focuses on the women in the Miller family: Janice, the patient matriarch holding down the perfect household; Margaret, first born and stereotypically stubborn but still failing at #adulting, and Lizzie, the teen who finds out that achieving Insta-worthy looks has its downside.
When Paul Miller decides to leave his wife, the Miller family unit is thrown into chaos. The cracks are exposed as mother and daughters navigate a new normal while trying to keep up appearances for the neighbors (and themselves). Laced with social commentary on race and class, this novel is still laugh out loud funny and stirringly poignant as each woman finds her true identity and new role as the definition of their family is re-written.
Win Me Something
It’s all relative. Sometimes your worst fears are confirmed, or you’re more grateful for the cards you’ve been dealt when you get a peek into a family different from your own. Willa has never been under the impression that she had a “normal” family, even before her white mother and father of Chinese descent split, but her new job shines an even harsher light on her childhood.
After getting an impromptu gig as a nanny despite her college education, Willa has to reckon with just how fractured her ties to her family have become. She gets more than a bird’s eye view into the life of the affluent Adriens when she moves in with them and experiences their privilege and prejudice. But Willa never could have guessed that it would be her charge, a precocious girl named Bijou, who will challenge Willa on the most important questions of her life: who she is and who she wants to be.
All Adults Here
What if you looked backed at your parenting and thought you had done it all wrong? This is Astrid’s unfortunate predicament at the beginning of this novel that is a multi-generational glimpse of the American family in the 21st century.
Astrid feels complicit in her grown children’s struggles to have careers and families of their own. She sees them making mistakes and wishes she could have a do-over with their childhood. But when her thirteen-year-old granddaughter comes to live with her after exhibiting some poor judgement of her own, Astrid learns it’s not too late to be there for her family.
If you fast forward to the moment when a family comes together to mourn the loss of a parent with siblings grown (and possibly grown apart), then the tensions of familial bonds really come to light. This is the premise Wilkerson uses to send us on the journey of Eleanor Bennett and the effects that her life decisions have had on countless others.
Eleanor has lived many lives, it would seem, and this comes as news to her grown children, Byron and Benny. They’ve been estranged for years but their mother’s death brings them back in proximity of each other. The reunion would have been hard enough without the revelations that their mother divulges to them through a letter she wrote only to be opened upon her death. The secrets kept in the dark for so long will forever change how Benny and Byron see their mother and themselves.