LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng finally showed up in my library audio queue, and it was great! (That’s actually a very weak word for this amazing book. Please read on.)
The novel received a starred review from Kirkus (here) and was on Best of lists from just about everyone last year. Ng visited with Stephen Colbert soon after the book released, so I’m pretty sure my little addition to the world of praise for this title and author will have a relatively small effect. However, I also feel everyone should read it, so if you haven’t yet, then let me raise my voice in whatever way I can to convince you that you should.
(Also not a romance, in case I have to point that out. Still, please consider reading it.)
From the best-selling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.
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 teenage 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 old family friends of the Richardsons 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.
The Richardsons have four children, all of whom have different relationships with Mia and Pearl, and they all evolve as the novel progresses.
I’ve read both novels by Ng (her debut, EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, was also terrific) and she is simply brilliant, especially as she handles very complex storytelling from multiple points of view.
The book explores racism, privilege, wealth, poverty, the working poor, and the choices we make when the deciding moment is upon us, even when we approach that moment expecting to do something completely different. As most of the best novels do, it also quietly yet powerfully holds a light up to the idea of Otherness—in families, communities and, in this particular story, mother-daughter relationships.
Ng is a beautiful writer, bringing complex ideas into narrative that is easily followed, but not-so-easily put aside. This one will stick with you for days—if not forever. Every single character is sympathetic at some point in the book and the many emotional and societal issues it tackles is astonishing. Yet, despite it’s literary and intellectual chops, it’s an intriguing read with the pacing and captivating pull of genre fiction.
It’s remarkable, actually, how Ng pulls off this complicated story and how so very human every character comes across by the end. We may not think they’re all wonderful, but we certainly can understand, can empathize with, every choice they make.
That, my friends, is extremely hard to pull off.
Huge kudos to Ng, and let me say again, if you haven’t yet picked this one up, you really, really should.
Any books you’ve read lately that really made you think about your world or made you absolutely breathless at how well an author told a story?