Celeste Ng: Little Fires Everywhere
Published By: Little, Brown
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
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 the placid, progressive suburb of Shaker Heights 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.
Mia Warren, an enigmatic artist and single mother, 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.
What I Say:
” …sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over. “
Little Fires Everywhere was never a planned blog post. Quite often, I read a lot of books ‘behind’ my blog. I just want to read books without the pressure of trying to write down pertinent points and punchy quotes to put into a post.
However, sometimes, a novel comes along that knocks you sideways, and the only way you can get over not being able to read it anymore is to tell everyone else how wonderful it is!
From the first chapter, where the family house of the Richardsons is burnt to the ground, seemingly by their youngest daughter, Little Fires Everywhere drew me in and kept me there.
It is at first glance a book about two families – the Richardson and the Warrens.
The Richardsons, who live in the quaintly named Shaker Heights have it all. Two successful parents, a brood of children who are over achieving in every nauseating Round Robin Christmas Newsletter way possible, and an ordered, chocolate box existence that most of us can only dream of.
Mia Warren, a free-spirited, nomadic artist and her daughter Pearl, arrive in Shaker Heights to take up the rental of the Richardsons’ second house. From that moment on, the two families become intertwined in a way that neither could have foreseen – perhaps the first little fire of the title has been lit.
Elena Richardson is initially welcoming to Mia, seeing her as a charitable cause to take under her wing. Pearl becomes great friends with the Richardson children and relishes the stability and apparent normality that she longs to have in her own home. There is no doubt that she loves her mother and has accepted that they move when and where her mother decides, but it is evident that Pearl longs for something more traditional, a secure base for her to develop and mature.
Similarly, Elena’s youngest daughter, Izzy, seems at odds with her family. Constantly restless, she seems confined by the rigidity and conventionality of Shaker Heights, and her family’s reputation and place in it. Izzy strikes up a close friendship with Mia, and as Pearl becomes more a part of the Richardsons family, Izzy falls into Pearl’s place with an ease that surprises even herself.
The stifling conformity of Shaker Heights is threatened when Elena’s friends, the McCulloughs have to go to court to keep their baby Mirabelle or May Ling Chow, that they wish to adopt. Mirabelle was found abandoned outside a fire station, and given to the McCulloughs who were looking to adopt. Bebe, May Ling’s biological mother and a friend of Mia, wants to take her baby home. This shocking turn of events reveals that Shaker Heights is not used to having to confront something this inflammatory in their perfect world and no one seems quite sure how to handle it.
Should Mirabelle stay with the McCulloughs who can offer her everything she needs in this privileged, monied life, or should she be handed back to her biological mother who can give May Ling the cultural and emotional roots she needs?
We see the emotions, background and daily realities of both the birth and adoptive mothers, and feel enormous empathy for both. At the heart of it all, Celeste portrays them purely and simply as women fighting for the child they feel is rightly theirs.
“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.”
The volatile custody battle is perhaps the next spark of the little fires everywhere – an incendiary moment that sets Elena against Mia, and Izzy against Elena as they face each other on opposite sides of the custody battle. Elena feels increasingly frustrated that she cannot ultimately control the outcome of the trial, and sets about trying to find out as much as she can about Mia. It becomes her mission to ensure that Mia is humiliated and shamed into leaving Shaker Heights. As Elena investigates Mia’s past, revelation after revelation comes tumbling out, which show us why Mia is who she is today, and why she and Pearl live the lifestyle they do. It also means that Elena has to confront some unpleasant realities about her family and her own behaviour too, which is something she perhaps had never really faced.
Little Fires Everywhere is an epic contemporary novel about so many different things. It is about family, race, motherhood and the choices we are forced to make in times of crisis. Every character in the novel has important decisions to make which have far-reaching impact and will change the world they inhabit forever.
Celeste never forces an opinion on us, she presents us with the characters and their dilemmas, and as we live through them with them, we learn more and more about why they do what they do, and we are made to understand that things in life are not always black and white for any of us.
Little Fires Everywhere is a brilliant and thought-provoking novel to be savoured, read slowly and recommended to everyone.
I loved it.