I have a confession to make: I almost passed on reading this book. I saw other book bloggers talking about how excited they were to read it, but my decision on not reading it remained firm—until it didn’t. I’d been hearing some serious buzz about this book for quite a while when I saw it was available on Edelweiss, and I knew it was time to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.
Best book decision EVER!
Little Fires Everywhere is a wonderful book. The title is perfect in both the literal and metaphorical sense. The book begins at the scene of a house fire (started by “little fires everywhere”), but as you read further you realize it also references events experienced by most of the featured characters in the book. Shaker Heights is bursting with drama—sometimes private, sometimes very public—and newcomers Mia and Pearl Warren are connected to all of it, in one way or another.
Mia and Pearl have never stayed in one place very long. Mia, an artist, says her work is inspired by this itinerant way of life, so once she finishes a project, they move on, taking only what will fit in their car and leaving everything else behind. Such a life isn’t so great for Pearl, however. She never complains, but deep down she longs for the stability that will only come if they stop traveling and settle down somewhere. Mia has promised they will do this in Shaker Heights, which is how they came to be tenants in Elena Richardson’s rental house.
The Richardson’s seem to have it all. They are an affluent family living in a large, lovely home with four children—Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzy. Lexie is the smart one, Trip is a jock, Moody has the soul of a poet, and Izzy is the rebellious one. With the exception of Mr. Richardson, everyone in the family was born and raised in Shaker Heights. They have perfect lives… or do they? Things are rarely what they seem to be, after all.
Pearl and Moody struck up a friendship the day she and Mia moved into their new home, and it wasn’t long before she started spending most of her time hanging out with the Richardson kids at their house. Mia worried about Pearl’s infatuation with the family, so when Elena asks her to work as their part-time housekeeper, she agreed in order to keep an eye on her daughter.
Meanwhile, the Richardson’s friends—the McCulloughs—are in the process of adopting a Chinese-American baby they named Mirabelle. The family recently attended Mirabelle’s first birthday party, and Lexie fell in love with the her and is excited about the adoption. Izzy, on the other hand, is troubled by it because the McCulloughs don’t know for certain when Mirabelle’s birthday is, nor is Mirabelle the name she was given at birth. They have a heated disagreement about this one afternoon while Mia is working at the house, and she can’t help but wonder if Mirabelle is the daughter of Bebe Chow—a woman she works with at another job—who is searching for the baby she left at a fire station in a moment of desperation. Her decision to tell Bebe about Mirabelle will have lasting repercussions that affects the lives of everyone involved, including her own.
It probably seems like I’ve told a lot about what happens in the book, but trust me when I say I have barely scratched the surface on the events that take place in this novel. There is so much more going on in Shaker Heights than the few examples I’ve given here.
This book was my introduction to Celeste Ng, as I’ve not (yet) read her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You. (This is clearly an oversight of epic proportions that I intend to rectify sometime in the near future.) Ng’s writing is stellar, with wonderfully vibrant characters readers will easily connect with as they go through the motions of trying to sort out their problems. And it must be noted that Mirabelle’s adoption story is written in such a way that not only the characters in the book, but the readers themselves, are led to consider the importance of cultural identity when the child is of a different ethnicity than the adoptive parents. It’s something I’d never considered before, so I appreciated the issue being raised within the story because it made me see things in a different way. Fiction or not, I love a book that makes me think!
To sum it all up, this is a great book. Don’t make the mistake I (almost) made… just do yourself a favor… go read the book. This one is WAY too good to miss. And keep an eye out for Celeste Ng’s next book, because I certainly will be!
Author: Celeste Ng
Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Publication Date: September 12th, 2017 by Penguin Press
About the Book
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.
About the Author
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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.