Author : Celeste Ng
Title : Little Fires Everywhere
Pages : 388
Publisher : Abacus
Publication date : April 10, 2018
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.
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 alluring 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 the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.
Welcome to Shaker Heights. A place where rules and regulations are plentiful, from the paint colours on the house exteriors to how long the grass on your lawn is allowed to grow. Where everything is meticulously planned and following the rules will undoubtedly lead to a successful life. Or so they say. It has quite the Stepford Wives vibe to it and I disliked the neighbourhood from the start.
Enter Mia and her daughter Pearl. From the beginning, it’s obvious these two free spirits will shake up Shaker Heights. Mia is an artist with a mysterious past and after extensive traveling, she’s decided to stay put in Shaker Heights with her daughter.
The story kicks off when someone sets fire to the house of the Richardson family. The who isn’t much of a surprise, the why is a different story altogether. Set in the 1990’s, Little Fires Everywhere tackles a number of topics from abortion to adoption. Most of all, its focus is on motherhood. From a custody case that will divide the community to how mothers see their children, encourage them or hold them back. Life in Shaker Heights will change dramatically.
I found the beginning quite slow. It didn’t seem like much was happening and it took me a while to get into the story. However, Celeste Ng’s writing is phenomenal, incredibly absorbing and immersive as you follow these characters, get to know them better and try to figure out where your loyalties lie. Even though the pace stays pretty much the same throughout the story, I became utterly invested in these characters’ lives.
My only misgiving is the open-ended conclusion. Things didn’t quite turn out how I expected them and I was left with questions I really wanted answers to. I wouldn’t mind at all if Celeste Ng decides to revisit some of these characters again some time. Little Fires Everywhere is a character-driven, wonderfully written family drama. If, like me, you pick this one up and you struggle in the beginning, do yourself a favour and keep going. It’ll be worth it, I promise!
Little Fires Everywhere is available to buy!