Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Expected Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: Penguin Press
Rating: ★★★★★/ 5 Stars
Genre: Contemporary Mystery
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors 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 teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than 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 status quo 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 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 unexpected and devastating costs.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.
I received an electronic advance reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
Trigger warning: abortion and usage of ableist language such as “lunatic” “mental” “deranged”
To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.
First of all, no one has any idea what this means to me. I have been the biggest fan of Ng’s Everything I Never Told You since last May and getting to read a free copy of her new book MONTHS prior to its release is so exciting and kind of terrifying.
Ng’s capable of writing such well rounded characters and giving them such meaningful lives that made me truly sympathize and care for them. Although this is a standalone, I honestly would not mind a continuation, I simply want to read more of the carefully constructed world Ng made.
Everything about the community of Shaker Heights appealed to me. I love a good setting that has all the components of perfection because messing it up is all too easy and I especially love how the book opens up with the devastating events that gives you a unique view into the family and then breaks off in chapter two to start the slow unfurling of everyone’s lives before the catastrophe happened.
The Richardson family was so predictable that I delighted in all the ways their lives got messed up by Mia and Pearl’s involvement. I know, I know, I can’t help it, perfection is something I strive towards but I also see the faults in. I found Ng’s usage of Elena’s last name so well done as it separated between Elena before her marriage and after she took on the title Mrs. Richardson. The way this society worked you’d think they lived on the moon or something; they were so separated from the rest of the world. Of course, mention of the outside world events did sneak into the story but nothing like Mia and Pearl that truly shook everything apart.
All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never –could never—set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. The key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration.
This book has a big cast of characters and while not all of them were taken to the limit of their development, they were still strong and complex. Even in the case of the ever absent father role of Mr. Richardson, you got glimpses of how he’d kind of stumbled into his life despite having very different aspirations before he settled into Shaker Heights with Elena. Elena is this controlled powerful woman who loves to keep everything on a leash to the smallest detail and I rejoiced in seeing her lose control one bit at a time.
Their children are cookie cutter Jock, Princess, Artist and Criminal. I know, I know, overdone stereotypes but I loved it. I loved that Trip was an asshole that used ableist language to refer to his sister Izzy because it made me think: What a fucking douche, I hope he chokes. And he does! In ways that might sound very cliché to others but I personally love that brand of poetic justice.
The Princess Lexie has perfect grades, perfect hair, perfect wardrobe and hell even the perfect Black Boyfriend! Again, her perfect little life is turned on its head when sex is introduced into her life.
Then there’s Moody who wants to be a poet and has a guitar and is secretly a Nice Guy. I honestly wanted to care for Moody but unlike Izzy, he disappointed me.
And finally: my child: Izzy. Izzy is associated with a lot of negative words and the excuse to why her mother smothers her did not convince me one bit but I still thought: “Huh, Mothers are strange…” I guess I can never understand Elena because I don’t have that kind of thinking in me. Anyway, Izzy’s unfurling was the most beautiful to me. She grew so attached to Mia because ding ding ding Mia was the first person to actually listen to Izzy. She also showed incredible lack of taking anyone’s bullshit and thrilled me. Her point of views was always the most entertaining to read.
That’s the Richardsons, whose lives are so boring when you look at them from afar but can prove to be good entertainment if you look closely…
It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.
Enter single mom Mia Warren, who sounded a lot like a manic pixie dream girl except no straight boy lusted after her, and her daughter Pearl Warren, who I want to protect. Mia and Pearl have a system. All their belongings fit inside the tiny car (which I forgot what it’s called) and they move from one city to another whenever Mia’s inspiration struck. Mia is a very talented photographer that the very description of her work fascinated me, a person with not one artist bone in their body.
Everything, she had come to understand, was something like infinity. They might never come close, but they could approach a point where, for all intents and purposes, she knew all that she needed to know. It would simply take time, and patience.
Pearl on the other hand is your average genius who’s so smart and kind and lovely, like Lexie, you’d just want to adopt as you baby sister. And like most impressionable teenage girls, Pearl grows attached to one of the formally mentioned boys. I won’t spoil who. It’s Mia’s backstory that kind of made my heart splinter. I just love me a good sad story and that woman has it down. I also have a tiny theory that Mia is Asexual/Aromantic but that theory can be debunked since she simply never dates… anyone. And she never shows any sign of being attracted to anyone. Anyway, I won’t overthink it. The bond Mia and Pearl had was incredible and made me root for this duo till the very end.
She smelled, Mia thought suddenly, of home, as if home had never been a place, but had always been this little person whom she’d carried alongside her.
Whoa, what a great cast of characters, by now you’d think: that’s it. That’s all. Nope! There are more people! That’s the genius of Ng, she can make you get sentimental and attached to the VERY minor of minor characters but I won’t delve too much into them and move on to the issue of adoption that acts as the catalyst of why Elena digs around Mia’s past.
A Chinese baby is found and she is handed into the hands of two very nice Caucasian people who really want a baby. But is the fact that they can provide the best of homes and the best education and yada yada yada a good reason to keep her from her mother who only gave her away because she literally did not even have her own breast milk to feed the baby? The adoption battle is picked up when the child’s mom shows up and somehow Mia gets involved. The focus is beautifully put on both sides of this battle. People who think the little girl should go to her new parents while others argue that a Chinese baby can’t be separated from her heritage and history and culture especially since the mother wants her back. There is a diverse minor cast that I thought was a very smart more on Ng’s behalf. She gave us the view into these people’s lives with simple statement without losing the focus off of the main two families. I especially like how there was this view of Asian culture and how ridiculous what some of these white people thought.
I am so excited for more people to read this book so I can see their reactions to the many ways this book got me hooked. I truly love the writing style and while the themes of abortion, adoption and even surrogacy isn’t new to me, the ways Ng explored it made them very unique.
About the Author
Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You, which was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.
Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.
Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, will be published by Penguin Press in fall 2017.