Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere
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Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng

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 principal 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.

Review

Celeste Ng’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, opens with the line: ‘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.’ Set in the mid-1990s, the novel follows two very different families over the course of a year, slowly building to the aforementioned fire.

The Richardsons are a wealthy married couple with four children, a big house, deep ties to their community, and everything they could ever need. Mia and Pearl Warren are a mother and daughter who drift from town to town, never settling, living on the edge of poverty. When Mia rents an apartment from the Richardsons, unexpected connections build between the two families. However, relationships are strained by a public custody battle around a Chinese–American baby: the Richardsons are friends with the white couple trying to adopt the baby and Mia works with the baby’s birth mother.

Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You was a critically acclaimed bestseller and Little Fires Everywhere is equally compelling. Ng inhabits eight or nine different characters with ease, each portrayed with authenticity and understanding, and she expertly brings together a range of plot threads into a satisfying, resonant ending. An emotionally complex, richly detailed drama about motherhood and belonging, Little Fires Everywhere is not to be missed.


Nina Kenwood is the marketing manager for Readings.

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