Little Fires Everywhereby Published 12 Sep 2017
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The brilliant new novel from the author of the New York Times bestseller, Everything I Never Told You.
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.
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.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.
Little Fires Everywhere Reviews
My reviews can also be seen at: https://deesradreadsandreviews.wordpress.com/
“Little Fires Everywhere” is my first read by Celeste Ng, but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be my last. I could easily have read this book in just one or two sittings but life got in the way (in this case life being a glass of 7up, a knee jerk and “Oh Nooo! Save the books!”). But once I dried the book (and my tears), I picked it up again and didn’t stop until I finished the last page.
Everything in Shaker Heights is planned and there are rules that residents must follow. Houses can only be painted certain colors (to ensure aesthetic harmony), garbage is never put out in front of the house, lawns must always be cut promptly, etc.
The city motto says it all:
“Most communities just happen; the best are planned”
When Mia Warren and her fifteen year old daughter, Pearl rent a home from the Richardsons, a prominent Shaker Heights family – their lives will become intertwined in ways they never could have imagined.
Mrs. Richardson liked to rent to people she felt were deserving of her help, people who may have had some tough turns in life. She felt it was her way of giving back. When she first meets Mia Warren and her daughter she thinks they are the perfect tenants.
One of the Richardson boys, Moody is curious about the new tenants and heads over to the rental property. Moody and Pearl hit it off immediately. Moody who has never wanted for anything, is surprised at how this mother and daughter make their way. Mia can stretch a dollar (and leftover food) farther than anyone he’s ever seen. It’s not long before Moody brings Pearl home to meet everyone. Soon Pearl is spending much of her time at the Richardson home. At first everything is fantastic. Mrs. Richardson even hires Mia to do some housekeeping and cooking at the Richardson home. But it won’t be long before the many differences between Mia and Mrs. Richardson cause a divide that will affect the two families in unimaginable ways.
In some ways, I felt bad for Pearl as the nomadic life that her mother had them living would be hard on anyone, especially a teenage girl. However, Pearl also seemed to benefit from the way they lived. At first, Mia came across as incredibly selfish but it wasn’t long before I loved her. Her caring ways were evident and how she responded to the different crises that came up endeared her to me. I may not have agreed with all of her choices but I could certainly see how she would have made them.
Right off the bat I was irked by Mrs. Richardson (the fact that she was rarely referred to by her first name was fitting). Mrs. Richardson was the type who wanted to be seen as someone who cared and helped others. However, you could tell right away that she kept track of all the good things she had done. And you never knew when Mrs. Richardson would want a repayment of her “kindness”. When she offers to buy one of Mia’s photographs and Mia doesn’t fall at her feet with gratitude...
“That’s very generous of you.” Mia’s eyes slid toward the window briefly and Mrs. Richardson felt a twinge of irritation at this lukewarm response to her philanthropy.
Izzy was a firecracker and I adored her impulsiveness and strong feelings about right and wrong. Even at ten years old, setting shelter cats free “They’re like prisoners on death row” , her refusal to conform was thrilling. Mrs. Pissers and the toothpick incident had me giggling. And I hurried to Google to search “This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin.
There was a lot going on in “Little Fires Everywhere” but I found it easy to keep up. I will say that it had a bit of a slow start but I feel the author was just setting the stage for all that was to come. And once I hit the halfway mark, I was so completely invested into all of their lives and HAD to know what was going to happen next.
The additional story-line of little Mirabelle McCullough/May Ling Chow’s adoption was incredibly thought provoking and had me asking myself some hard questions. I honestly didn’t know which side I was on half the time. My head was spinning.
“What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”
I thought that the development of the characters was fantastic. With so many characters and only so many pages, it takes skill to bring them all to life. And in my opinion; Celeste Ng did a phenomenal job. And with the many 90’s references such as Sir-Mix-a-lot, Smashing Pumpkins, Jerry Springer, and Monica Lewinsky - I was taken back to my own adolescence.
This was an intriguing and compelling domestic drama. A story about motherhood, adolescence, race, rules, right and wrong, and so much more. Great characters and an interesting plot made “Little Fires Everywhere” a fast and fantastic read.
Many thanks go to Penguin Press for providing a copy of this book for me to read in exchange for my honest review.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is a 2017 Penguin Press publication.
A smart, but often scathing look at entitlement coupled with the endless dynamic layers between mother and child.
The Clinton era gets a sharp examination as we drop in on Shaker Heights, an ideal suburban community with plenty of unspoken rules for its financially comfortable residents. The Richardson family is the prototype of the community, with Elena Richardson embracing the lifestyle with unparalleled enthusiasm.
‘Perfection: that was the goal, and perhaps the Shakers had lived it so strongly it had seeped into the soil itself, feeding those who grew up there with a propensity to overachieve and a deep intolerance for flaws.’
By contrast, Mrs. Richardson’s new tenants, Mia and her daughter, Pearl, live a free spirited, nomadic life. Mia is a photographer, who works just enough to afford the basics in life. Pearl, though, has no trouble adapting to the stable home life of the Richardson’s, practically becoming a member of the family.
Things are working out well enough, until a chain of events unlocks long buried secrets, spawning a bitter custody battle, which exposes cracks in the Richardson’s perfect image, and will culminate in a fiery inferno, both physically and metaphorically.
This second novel by Celeste Ng is not quite as grim or heavy as her debut, but it is every bit as provocative.
I have had a hard time writing this review because the layers in this story are many, with so many themes to explore. I have worked on it for days, feeling slightly intimidated, unable to find the words that would do justice to such an outstanding novel.
This book adeptly explores hot button issues prevalent twenty years ago, between episodes of Jerry Springer and Clinton’s sex scandals, when a different set of questions were raised, such as interracial adoptions.
“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”
I was impressed with the various contrasts presented in the book, which included the mindset of the privileged juxtaposed against those who find themselves at their mercy. Was there an exacting price for that privilege and was it worth it? I must say, the judgmental hypocrisy is astounding!!
But, the heartbeat of the story is centered around motherhood. Every mother represented exposed that instant vulnerability motherhood creates. The pain of infertility and the frustrating process of adoption is examined right along with parental sacrifices and foibles and their consequences.
Mia and Mrs. Richardson's children also play an integral part in the story, their roles intertwined and connected in the most ironic of ways.
‘Izzy had the heart of a radical, but she had the experience of a fourteen-year-old in the suburban Midwest.’
One of the more interesting character studies is of Elena- mostly referred to as Mrs. Richardson, which I thought was a very clever way of hammering home a specific point. Her cluelessness, her arrogance, and relentless reproach is extraordinary in light of what is actually taking place.
Mia, in turn, may spark a little resentfulness in Mrs. Richardson, and despite my initial puzzlement about her, and I admit I certainly questioned some of her choices, I ended up respecting her a great deal.
So, as you can see, the novel is very driven by the characters, each offering a different perspective or new avenue in which to view the situation. Sometimes I felt deep empathy for one character, feeling the acuteness of their pain, but unable to choose a side. It is often heart wrenching and I found myself feeling torn on many occasions.
On other occasions, I had a very hard time mustering up any real empathy for a few of these characters.
The plotting was very tightly woven and on several occasions, I may have uttered an expletive out loud when misunderstandings exploded in the worst possible way, creating a mountain of tension in the process.
This is a very compelling family drama, drawing out a bit of nostalgia, prompting me to take a closer look in the mirror, to put myself in the place of others before passing judgement.
But, I also picked up on a bit of sarcasm here and there, almost as if the author was scoffing at some of the attitudes or the mindset of the era, although it was done so in an understated and sly way.
It’s been nearly a week since I finished the book and I still find myself mulling over the many layers and angles, and thinking about the characters and the choices they made and how it all came together in the end.
So, it is fair to say, this book has had an impact on me, and think it is a novel anyone who appreciates a well written, thought provoking work of fiction will appreciate. Highly recommend!!
5 Amazing Bright Shiny Stars! I would give it 100 if Goodreads would let me.
Little Fires Everywhere is a novel that far surpasses any other that I have ever read. I don't know how Celeste Ng did it. It is a brilliantly written novel with intricate, rich and wholly vivid characters whose lives are so fully intertwined you can't help but read on in bewildered awe of how Celeste Ng created these characters. My nerve endings were fully engaged on high alert from the first sentence.
Shaker Heights, Ohio is an affluent town with rules and regulations like no other. Mrs. Richardson lives by them, having been raised by them and she has raised her four children (Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy) to abide by them as well. She rents a little apartment in Shaker Heights to Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, who are less fortunate. Mia is a free spirited artist, who lives life to the fullest. These women have one thing in common and one thing only: they love their children immensely and they accept each other's as their own. Mia (or rather Ms. Ng) describes it beautifully:
"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. You could see it every time you looked at her; layered in her face was the baby she'd been and the child she'd become and the adult she would grow up to be and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was like a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again."
Neither live perfect lives, sometimes in fact they make grave mistakes, yet their love for their children never falters.
These mothers relationships with each other, their family and everyone in town is threatened when a custody battle ensues between a friend of the Richardsons, Mrs. and Mr. McCullough, who are in the middle of adopting a Chinese American baby and a friend of Mia's, Bebe, who is the birth mother. This battle wrecks havoc on the town and causes incredible strife between the families.
This novel is captivating and crazy compelling. These characters burn an indelible image onto your soul. The character of Izzy, Mrs. Richardson's daughter had me from the beginning (kind of like Hannah from Ms. Ng's Everything I Never Told You - which I also loved). Izzy has a strength and over came odds that most children in her position wouldn't. Her triumphs made my heart soar.
Somehow Ms. Ng made me change my mind about some of the characters throughout the course of this novel. In the beginning, I felt one way about two of the characters and then by the end, I did a complete switcheroo, and my feelings about them were FIERCE.
Little Fires everywhere brought forth laughter and lots of tears. It is that kind of novel. I can't recommend it highly enough. It is captivating, compelling and full of heart and soul. Celeste Ng's ability to intertwine the characters and storylines was wondrous, brilliant and beautiful. I loved every second of this book. It has now topped my list as my FAVORITE BOOK of ALL TIME.
Little Fires Everywhere was a Traveling Sister Group Read and included Brenda, Norma, Jennifer, Holly, Melissa & Kendall. We all had a fabulous time reading this one together - the group discussions for this incredible read were amazing and I look forward to our next read together.
For the full Traveling Sisters Group Review, please see Norma and Brenda's Blog:
Thank you to Edelweiss, Penguin Press and Celeste Ng for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Published on Goodreads, Edelweiss and Amazon on 9.17.17.
So, self-identification determines if a book is YA? Based on more than 60% of the content, this is young adult material. It’s good; parts are excellent, others not so much.
I liked Mia’s backstory as she became an artist using experimental photography. I thought that the custody dispute concerning “Oriental Barbie” was worth at least a star or two.
A lot of the characters are clichéd. The at-home Mr. Richardson could be a cardboard cutout with excellent earning skills. He fairs a lot better before the judge. The Richardson children fit into “The Breakfast Club” well. A jock, a popular girl, a smart kid and Izzy who may well be a transgendered Holden Caulfield (thank you to my GR friend, Bill Kupersmith), but I liked her a lot more than that wretched boy.
So yeah, the Richardson’s have a child for each grade in high-school. Mrs. Richardson produced four singletons in roughly as many years. While in other respects, she is a perfect match for her orderly and rule-bound community. The rapid-fire baby production seemed reckless and out of place. It is the only part of her character that jibbed with aggressively investigating her tenant and employee’s past. Opening a ‘can of worms’ and a house full of screaming babies being equally disordered and unpredictable.
I don’t believe that she is meant to be likable. She approaches friendship with same calculation as Claire Underwood with a careful tally of every kindness. But, as she is central to the book, I wish she were plausible. Even if she were perfectly constructed, the story is still awfully scattered.
My son heard part of the book while we were driving over the holidays. When we stopped, he would say “So” and give a one-sentence summary of the upcoming section or chapter. I don’t believe he has any preternatural gifts as plot savant. A lot of the story is pretty predictable.
I have a quibble about that car. Is that the same VW rabbit Mia’s brother bought when they were teenagers? If so, how did she manage vehicle maintenance on minimum wage earnings supplemented by occasionally selling a piece of art? Twenty to thirty years of use is aging NASA spacecraft territory, but this car starts reliably, runs well over long distances, and doesn’t need any repairs. It seems oddly out of place given the careful mathematics of Bebe’s poverty.
P.S. I stand corrected my son says he is too a plot savant.
This is one of those reads that starts off as a small flame. Then just as the smoke becomes a raging inferno, the story has gotten under your skin and you've inhaled more than you thought and instead of it going to your lungs, it aims straight for the heart.
It's a story of relationships - Mother daughter ones. It starts off with Mia and daughter, Pearl, who move to shaker heights which is an upscale suburban neighbourhood where life is both homogenous and idyllic. Until the adoption of a Chinese baby leaves the community divided. Is it biology that makes a parent? The old argument of nature vs nurture. Or what about decisions that are made in the heat of the moment that become life defining for a child, as regrettable as they may be, should a parent get a 2nd chance?
Ng raises some tough moral questions. Ones that had me thinking and arguing in my own head of what is right, wrong and sometimes not negotiable.
This one made me just want to hug my daughter a little tighter and have her recognize that my imperfections are to cushion her from the harshness life can sometimes deliver. Ng's writing is captivating. 4.5⭐️