Little Fires Everywhereby Published 07 May 2019
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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
“Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.”
Never in my life have I read any book, any narrative, that cared as deeply for all of its characters as this one did. Little Fires Everywhere lives in the grey area, leaving it impossible not to be invested, impossible not to love every character and cry for every character and root for every character, despite all their flaws.
I really struggle to characterize this book; it’s sort of a combination between a mystery and literary fiction, and will probably work best for you if you’re a fan of both? Little Fires Everywhere is a very slow-burn story about a small town thrown into disarray by a court dispute. When an Asian baby given up by her mother is adopted by a white family, it causes a spiral of events that lead to a scene of a house on fire and a family driven away.
I think I’ve already expressed this, but this book is.... a masterpiece. It’s one of those books that I finished and then was just on my bed tearing up because it’s so well-crafted. The reason this book is so fantastic is primarily structural; we see the end, and then we go back and see the beginning.
But anyway, the reason this book works so well is the characterization. There is so much to appreciate here. I like that Moody is sort of written as the stereotypical jilted nice guy, and and then we see more nuance to that characterization. I loved the complexity of the dynamic between poor characters and rich characters; I loved how no character is black and white, but they have definition nonetheless.
Of the approximately-eleven-person main cast, Izzy is my absolute favorite. Izzy is a ridiculously relatable character for me personally mainly through her relationship with her mom. There’s a line somewhere where Izzy says she thinks her mother sees her as such a demon that all her actions are framed in that light - that was me. And that is still me in my relationship with one of my parents. The degree to which the narrative of this book validates her trauma and her feelings is incredible.
And on another very personal note, Mia… kind of reminds me of my other parent. So some of you who follow me on this platform might now that my mom and I are really, really close, and I grew up with her as my main support system. And I think… her relationship with Izzy just felt so personal to me for that reason.
So maybe this was too personal a read for me, but I’m going to be honest: it’s my belief that reading is something that is meant to be personal. And maybe the degree to which this personally affected me is the most important part of all.
There’s a scene within this book that has stuck with me since the beginning, in which the adoptive mother of the baby is asked how she plans to incorporate Chinese culture into the life of the baby, and she brings up “oriental rugs” and how she gives the baby rice. And it’s this awful moment, because we know she loves that baby. We do. But in that moment she becomes the persecutor of her own child. She does not understand, and so she perpetrates a culture that has been trying to swallow up her child. I think that’s what this book is about, in the end; the degrees to which we can hurt people without ever attempting to, the way we can ruin lives through looking for our own happiness.
This book was masterful. And I hope you all read it.
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Metaphorically speaking, everyone has 'little fires' in their lives - events that begin as a small spark, and have the ability to transform into a raging inferno, changing lives for ever.
Shaker Heights, Cleveland is an idyllic place to live, everything has been planned to create the perfect community, but it's residents are expected to live by its many rules and regulations.
The Richardson's are quintessentially the kind of family who the community of Shaker Heights was built for. Elena Richardson was brought up with these rules, and she and her husband are determined that their four children, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy will live by them too. Izzy isn't exactly a chip off the old block though, and will prove to be very disruptive.
The Richardson's rent out an apartment to people they feel need a helping hand, and their latest tenants are Mia and her daughter Pearl. Mia is a free spirit, an artist specialising in photography, and when Elena’s troublesome daughter Izzy becomes close to Mia, Elena finds that she's jealous of the relationship, a relationship that doesn't exist between her and Izzy. Further to this, an adoption case in the community puts Elena and Mia on opposing sides, and Elena decides to do some digging on Mia’s past, and uproots some secrets that will change everything.
Oh gosh, this book explores so many issues, but for me the one that stood out was motherhood, and in particular, the relationship between mothers and daughters, from baby's early days to teenage angst.
It was beautifully written, with characters so well developed I felt as if I knew them personally. I also liked the setting of Shaker Heights, a place so perfect and orderly, and yet, ultimately there is always someone who will rip up those precious rules and regulations and throw them in the garbage.
Celeste Ng writes with great insight and empathy, and leaves the reader with much to think about.
*Thank you to Netgalley and Little, Brown Book Group for my ARC in exchange for an honest review*
I wouldn't even know where to begin to try and review this one. Holy fuck.
All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control.
4 1/2 stars. You should go into this book expecting what it is: a slow-moving character portrait filled with complex family dynamics and small-town politics. If you know what this is, like with Ng's Everything I Never Told You, and don't go into it expecting fast-pacing and high-octane drama, you will probably find this quiet read to be extremely engrossing and emotional.
I have to be in the mood for this kind of read, but when I am, it packs a powerful punch. These characters are so vivid, so real, so caught up in the little fires of everyday life in Shaker Heights. There's several stories going on in here, but the book begins with literal fires lighting up the Richardson household and the knowledge that the youngest daughter, Izzy, the wild card, has disappeared. Presumably because she is guilty of the arson.
Then we move back from there. We start to get a portrait of the events leading up to this dramatic fire. We see the poor artist, Mia, and her daughter, Pearl, move into town and the effect they have on all members of the Richardson family. Further back, we get the past stories of almost every character who comes into this book. It is such a rich work in which the personal stories and experiences of secondary characters play a huge part in influencing how events unfold.
And, behind it all, is a court case that will affect all the characters lives. A custody battle over a Chinese baby who could be given every toy, every desire, every opportunity by her rich and white adoptive parents - but is that all? Is that enough when her poor birth mother is ready and willing to care for her? Things become very tense. The town becomes divided. And I felt an emotional wreck by the end of it, too.
Mrs. Richardson, however, could not let Izzy be, and the feeling coalesced in all of them: Izzy pushing, her mother restraining, and after a time no one could remember how the dynamic had started, only that it had existed always.
The Richardson family, along with Mia and Pearl, Bebe, and the McCulloughs, all pulled me into their lives. I despised a character at one point, only to find pity for them a couple of chapters later. The relationship between Izzy and her mother was a real point of interest for me. How Mrs. Richardson's fears about Izzy affected her behaviour toward her, which in turn affected how Izzy behaved. All leading to the ultimate question: was Izzy always what Mrs. Richardson feared she was? Or did Mrs. Richardson create what she most feared through her treatment of Izzy?
Little Fires Everywhere is a great example of how small character dynamics can create a powerful and fascinating story. I love the empathy the author shows for all the people in this book - even the manipulative, morally corrupt and undeserving. No one is merely good or bad. And that is what makes the book so effective. Whose side am I on? I'll let you know if I ever figure it out.
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I think it's safe to say that I'll read everything Celeste Ng ever writes.
Just like in a mystery book, you have to work at getting to the root of her stories. She doesn't hand you the plot from the get-go, but instead offers you kernels of the story until everything comes together at the very end. Although this can lead to frustration or boredom, especially with the sometimes barebones plot, I loved it.
I'm very much a character-focused reader, and this was very much a character-focused novel. There's not much action driving this book forward. It's slow paced, but this gives us the time to dive deeper into the nuances of the complicated situation these characters are placed into. By examining from all sides, we are shown how both humans and their choices are complicated.
If you like character studies, complex relationships, and a '90s suburban setting, please pick this up!