Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Genre: Contemporary Fiction,
First Publication: 2017
Major Characters: Mia Warren, Pearl Warren, Elena Richardson, Izzy Richardson, Moody Richardson, Trip Richardson, Lexie Richardson
Setting Place: Shaker Heights, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (United States)
Theme: Order vs. Disruption, Altruism and Manipulation, Identity: Heritage, Assimilation, and Transience
Narrator: Third-person omniscient
Book Summary: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.”
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town – and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost…
Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Like most planned communities, Shaker Heights have rules and regulations. Homes and lawns must be maintained to the standards set, garbage is collected from behind the homes, so not as to spoil the illusion of the perfect life. Paint colour on houses must be approved, and within the parameters of choices for the style of the home.
The Richardson family, an important, prominent family in Shaker Heights, have four teenage children who arrived in the world one year apart; Isabelle, or Izzy, the youngest, a freshman in high school, is the one the rest of the family always seems to be shaking their heads about; Moody, a sophomore, is quiet, bright and very introspective; Trip, a junior is a girl magnet who plays sports, and is good at it; and Lexie, a senior, who is well-liked at school, and has plans for her future.
The Richardson family also owns another home that they rent out, the top floor separately from the lower floor. Mrs. Richardson, has an image she likes to maintain, and part of that is helping people who she feels are deserving.
“Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.”
So when Mrs. Richardson, Elena, meets Mia Warren and Mia’s daughter Pearl, a very shy fifteen year-old girl, she feels they will be the perfect choice for her new tenants, clearly they could use a healthy wave of her help. Mia doesn’t feel she needs her help, or really, anyone else’s for that matter, clearly Mrs. Richardson and Mia Warren are two very different women with two very different sets of priorities.
Mrs. Richardson had planned her future out when she was her children’s age, or perhaps even younger. She’s succeeded in most of the ways that are apparent to an outsider looking in – providing they don’t look too closely. Her husband is an attorney, and they live in her designated neighborhood, in an appropriate house and drive nice cars, but tastefully nice.
Mia, on the other hand, has wanted to be an artist her whole life, but life had more or less just happened to her and she went along for the ride. Not that it was entirely without planning, but sometimes plans need adjusting somewhere along the way, and the choices you make need to change, as well. Her life has been lived flying by the seat of her pants, navigating with the wind.
“Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn’t, you might burn the world to the ground.”
It doesn’t take long for young Moody who is riding his bike over to make Pearl’s acquaintance, and they strike up a friendship at once. Despite their home and income differences, or maybe because of them, Moody is drawn to their home over and over again. It isn’t long before he brings Pearl to his home to meet everyone in his family.
Another storyline weaves throughout their stories, a young Chinese woman who, unable to care for herself, let alone her infant, leaves her baby at a firehouse. A husband and wife, who have been praying for a baby to adopt, are asked if they are interested in adopting her.
Told through the eyes of multiple characters, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NG is a slow burn read with fluid changes of POV. While one of the main events occurs in the first chapter, it isn’t until the end that one can fully understand the implications of “the little fires everywhere.” It didn’t take very long for me to become fully engaged in this story, in the lives of these people, to become so familiar with who they were, to see each of their flaws as Celeste Ng slowly revealed more and more about these perfectly imperfect characters. The more I learned about them, the more immersed I became in this story.
“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”
Celeste Ng has an uncanny talent for picking deftly at the sore wounds between mothers, daughters, and others. She seems to know just when to bring to the surface those truths, those thorny-edged truths that emerge unexpectedly to the surface. The undeniable, can-no-longer-hide truths and the profound consequences that force one to finally take the reigns and deal. Little Fires Everywhere was my first book by Celeste Ng. I loved storytelling in Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NG, her gift of drawing me into these lives slowly, but always adding just enough to pull me in just a little more and then suddenly I realized I couldn’t imagine not having had this experience. She’s one of the best female authors of contemporary times.
In Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NG, author takes on quite a multi-leveled undertaking with so many prongs in the fire pit. You’ll be the judge of that. But this storyline will grab your attention and have you, unintentionally, taking sides in many arguments that crosses these pages.
This amazing book, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, is now adapted by Witherspoon and Washington’s Hulu and the series is streaming on the platform. Though I’ve not watched it yet but surely planning to watch by this weekend (I checked the trailer and it looks promising thankfully. I am still not happy about Big Little Lies’ adaptation.)