Originally published: Sep 2017 (This edition Aug 2018)
Author: Celeste Ng
Published by: Abacus
Length: 388 pages
Reading dates: 15-20 May 2020
“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.”
The Richardson’s are a well off family who live in Shaker Heights, a progressive suburb in Cleveland, Ohio. The sort of place that has a lot of rules such as what colours people can paint their houses and what trees they can plant on their front lawns. Elena Richardson is a native of Shaker Heights, who writes for the local newspaper. Her husband is a lawyer and they have 4 kids: Lexie, Tripp, Moody and Isabelle, the black sheep of the family.
As Little Fires Everywhere begins, Elena wakes late to find their house on fire. Luckily she is the only one home and she escapes. As the fire devastates their property, it becomes obvious that Isabelle deliberately lit the fires.
We then find out what led to this shocking event. Mia and Pearl Warren arrive at Shaker Heights and rent an apartment from the Richardson’s. Up until now, they have lived a rather nomadic lifestyle, travelling around, when Mia, an artist needs inspiration for a new project. But now they are settling so Pearl can finish her education with some stability. Moody befriends Pearl immediately and she soon becomes accepted as part of the Richardson gang of kids. But it is Mia, who carries with her a disregard for the rules that threaten to upend this carefully ordered community.
When the Richardson’s friends, the McCullough’s attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, who was found abandoned by its mother on some fire station steps, a custody battle dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. As Mrs Richardson feels her children are being pulled away from her and her influences, she becomes curious about Mia and is determined to find out her secrets.
I bought this back in 2018 as I was seeing a lot of positive reviews on Instagram but it has languished on my shelves ever since. Kerrie over at I Loved Reading This and I decided to buddy read it together and chat about what we thought over Zoom and we both really enjoyed it. Annoyingly I have the Richard & Judy Book Club copy and in the opening paragraphs about why they enjoyed the book, they give away quite a big plot point…so if you have this edition, skip that bit!
I was completely torn over the story line with the adopted baby. Mr & Mrs McCullough obviously love the baby very much – they have been desperately trying for a child for many years and so when asked to look after the abandoned baby they jump at the chance. They can give her whatever she needs and she will have a good life. However, when the babies birth mother reappears on the scene, I ended up swinging back and forth over who the child should live with. The poor mother had a terrible time when she had the baby – no partner to support her, no money and no idea she could get any help. She was pretty desperate to abandon her baby. One part of me thought the baby should be back with her birth mother because of course every child should be with their mother and know their heritage. But the other part of me knew she would have a good life with the McCullough’s.
A really good example of a good character driven novel, it is a slow burner but still completely enthralling. With themes of racial divides and family relationships especially those between mothers and daughters, the book actually had a lot of depth and made me think more than I expected it would.
By coincidence, Reese Witherspoon has adapted this to TV and it has just starting streaming and I am really keen to start watching it.
Both Kerrie and I really enjoyed this book and we are both keen to read more of Ng’s work. A really entertaining and thought provoking book that made me think about lots of different issues – I’m so glad to have finally read it!
You can check out Kerrie’s review here.
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.