If you haven't watched or read Little Fires Everywhere by now, you should make it on your next watch/read list.
This book and show raises major questions about motherhood, racism, friendship, relationships, class structure, sexual identity, and does so all with suspense and excellent character development. But while the book and TV show are alike in many ways, they also include a few major and subtle differences. Below is my list of the differences between the book and TV show that I found the most interesting.
What you see in the book:
Izzy and Mia are not gay
Perhaps the most glaring difference between the novel and the show is that in the show, Izzy struggles with sexual identity through her friendship with April. Much of her frustration lies when April pokes fun at Izzy in public despite their closeness when they were alone. However, April's character is basically non-existent in the book, and Izzy's rebellious nature mainly stems from not getting the approval she so desperately needs from her mother. In the part where she explodes in the band room in the show, she is pushed to the limit by April and her friend laughing at her. But in the book, she can't stand the band director picking on her fellow classmates. She breaks the teacher's baton in both the book and the show, but for these different reasons. These offer interesting perspectives into Izzy's character. In the book, this suggests that the teacher is like her mother, berating her classmates just as she does Izzy. But the show focuses on her classmates berating her for her sexual identity.
Author Celeste Ng said that she could see where Izzy would struggle with this, and approved of the show making her out to be gay. I think in Izzy's case it fit, in the sense that she was this adolescent trying to figure out who she was in life. It also rounded out her character more and showed how she also was not approved of in school.
As far as Mia's erotic relationship with professor Pauline Hawthorne, the book describes their relationship as nothing more than friendly. Pauline invites her over for dinners with Mal there, and they discuss Mia's photographs. The only physical intimacy described between the two in the entire story is when Mia visits Pauline just before her death and Pauline plants a kiss on Mia's cheek to say farewell. I can see where the show took the liberty in interpreting this relationship as something more than what it was, and it certainly added drama to the show I guess. But was it necessary for Mia's character? I don't think so. Mia didn't need to be gay to understand Izzy. They had their art connection, and their rebellious and carefree personalities to bind them already. It doesn't detract from the show, but I didn't see Mia's lesbian relationship with Pauline as essential to the TV show.
Elena and Jaime are only briefly mentioned
TV today loves to add a steam factor, and giving us the drama of Jaime and Elena's past combined with her one night of passion followed by her next night of almost passion gave us more to hate about Mrs. Richardson. But in the book, the only contact that Elena has with Jaime is a phone call asking for his help to dig up birth records for Mia. It is mentioned that Jaime once loved Elena, and that Jamie does work for the New York Times, but that's about it.
Izzy was the only one who burned the house down
I actually liked how the show got all the characters to create 'little fires everywhere' and burn down the Richardson home. In the book, Izzy goes about it alone and Elena does not take the blame. I also liked how she did admit to her guilt in the show, even if it created a sort of sappy ending. It showed that she finally learned from her mistakes. In the book we see her inner dialogue, where she yearns for Izzy's return, but she knows that she will never come back. She tells herself that she won't stop until she finds her.
Moody has no secret getaway in a junkyard
I thought this was an unnecessary addition to the show. Moody and Pearl go on a number of dates in the book that would have been a lot more interesting to show than simply taking her to a junkyard to awkwardly play his guitar. I can't think exactly why they thought to film it this way, other than that it set up for them to be caught trespassing.
Lexie wanted a baby
Before Lexie found out she was pregnant, she had baby fever after visiting Maribelle. She had all things baby on her mind, and she was actually the one to tell Mia that the McCulloughs were in the process of adopting her, not Elena. When Lexie returned from the clinic and went to Mia's duplex, Pearl never told her that she put her name down on the form. So all we see from these pages is Mia as a strong, comforting mother figure. When Lexie asked her if she did the right thing, she says something along the lines of "Only you can know that" instead of scolding her for using her daughter's name.
I liked how the book and show portrayed Mia here. In the book, Celeste concentrated on Mia's love and attention to those in need, unlike Elena. In the show, it focused more on the class divide between Mia and the Richardsons. The last thing Mia said to Lexie in that scene in the show was something like "Wash your own damn glass." This displayed the difference between Lexie's way of life and Mia's.
Bebe never wrecked a birthday party
Bebe drove to the McCullough house herself and banged on the door asking to speak to Linda. However, she never came down to open the door, and when Bebe returned to see Mia, her fist was beat red from all the knocking. She was told that if she went around there again she would be arrested for trespassing, but in the book, she is not there illegally.
This adds some interesting modern-day issues into a '90s timeline. The problems with illegal immigrants is very much a 2020 topic, but was not highlighted in the story. It may have been inserted there as a way to shed light to an issue we need to pay attention to.
Ed Lim did Bebe's case pro bono
This is actually a huge deal because in the book Mia does not have to sell her coveted painting to strum up money for Bebe's lawyer. So this takes the plotline to other levels in the show, such as Elena tracking down Jaime, bothering her husband about the painting, her husband interrogating Bebe about where she got her lawyer fees, etc. None of this is in the story. In fact, most of the court case focuses on interrogating Mrs. McCullough. There is some interesting line of questioning thrown her way that we do not witness in the show. Lawyer Ed Lim asks her about the books she reads to Mirabelle or what the dolls look like that she plays with. While the racism-directed questions in the courtroom are seen in the show, they aren't as interesting as the ones in the book.
Pearl and Trip got it on a bunch of times
This was one area where the book was more steamy than the show. They first had sex at Trip's friend's house, and continued doing it there until they finally made it to Pearl's. Trip made the first move on Pearl on the Richardson couch as well, and that time did not lead to sex. It was an interesting choice that both Lexie and Pearl made the first moves for sex in the show, perhaps a nod to female empowerment, suggesting that women can be in charge of making the first moves too.
The book delves much more into Mia's photography skills
Whereas the show seems to paint (pun intended) Mia as an artist of all trades, the book primarily focuses on Mia's photography talent. It talks about her growth as a photographer, and shows how she always has an interest in shooting things that have rusted out, or died - such as a rusty old car, or a dead bird on the side of the road. This adds more weight to when she talks about the prairie she saw burn that can grow anew. It also allows us to see more into her way of seeing the world.
Pearl's character is not as flushed out
Pearl never angrily asks about her father, or gets upset over her mother's lies. She never has the talk with Elena, where Elena tells her the truth about her past. Mia comes out and says it first, and Pearl takes it in stride. She has no real interest to see Mr. Ryan and said that someday she might want to see Mia's parents. While she is still very much a strong character in the book, her balance between a sweet and frustrated teen is more pronounced in the show.
Also, in the book, Mia named Pearl after Pearl from The Scarlet Letter, which I thought was an interesting sidenote.
Izzy takes off for Pittsburgh and then plans to go to New York to find Mia
The last thing that I found interesting was the question of "What happened to Izzy?" In the show, we see Izzy wander off into the street, and then it appears that she hops into the car with Mia. But later, as Mia and Pearl arrive at Mia's parents' house, Izzy isn't there. In the book, Mia hopes that she sees Izzy on the side of the road, but never does. Izzy hops a bus for Pittsburgh with hopes that she finds Mia.
I like that I got closure to this question, as I could only conjecture that Izzy would be okay from the show's ending.
While I normally say that the book is always better than the movie or TV show, I believe in this case, they are equally as good. There are things that the show did that I believe enhanced the characters or the themes, and there are things that I think the book did that gave us greater explanations and depth into the overall story. I suggest you both watch and read it because both the show and the book will keep you on the edge of your seat.