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.
Little Fires Everywhere was published on the 12th September in eBook and 9th November in hardback. Thank you to Little, Brown for having me on the blog tour and providing me with my copy of the book for this review.
Little Fires Everywhere interestingly starts at the end – with the Richardson home on fire as a result of a number of little fires lit throughout the home (hence its title!). Through the book the reader is aware of the outcome for a number of characters but doesn’t know why.
Shaker Heights is a well manicured community based upon order, rules and decorum – a place whereby strict rules decide who is allowed to live in Shaker Heights, the colour schemes that people have to use on their homes depending on its build type and Duplexes are hidden behind a facade of a well-to-do detached home. Shaker Heights is a community for the well off, that prides itself on its rules and, as a result, is a safe and affluent community to live in.
Little Fires Everywhere is beautifully written by Celeste Ng – she uses wonderful descriptive prose to bring to life the community of Shaker Heights and its comparison to those who are not so well off. Mrs Richardson comes from a line of Shaker Heights residents and has had her life planned out from the start which she has ‘adhered’ to. In comparison to this, there is Mia Warren, a single mother who rents the Richardson duplex. Mia is an artist and is constantly in the search of inspiration, as such Mia and her daughter Pearl have led a nomadic life, moving each time Mia has a new project. Pearl has grown up knowing that they will never be in one place for long, that she won’t be at any school for long – there is a tragic expectation in Pearl that she’ll never be in one place long enough to make friends.
Celeste Ng shares with her reader a fantastic exploration into the rich/poor divide – the relationship between the Richardson’s and the Warren’s should be purely business whereby Mia pays her rent on time and looks after the duplex. However, Pearl is brought into the Richardson fold through her friendship with Moody and then his siblings, Lexie, Trip and Izzy. This acceptance of the Warren’s in the Richardson’s lives is thrown into trouble when a custody battle starts within the community and they are on opposing sides – not only that but it also creates tension within the cohesive Richardson family unit.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I’m not always a fan of long descriptive prose but in this book it works brilliantly – it is all very cleverly crafted to draw the reader into the Shaker Heights community and the events that they are facing. It was brilliant to read this story from various different perspectives; to understand from Mia’s perspective her reasons for moving constantly and her guilt that she feels, the impact that this lifestyle has had on Pearl, how Mrs Richardson embraces her affluent lifestyle but tries to use it for good whilst being fiercely protective of her Shaker Heights friends and an insight into each of the Richardson children.
Simply, a brilliant read and I can see why Celeste Ng is receiving a lot of positivity around this, her second novel. The hype is most definitely deserved and I will be adding her first book, Everything I Never Told You to the TBR!
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. She graduated from 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 the New York Times, One Story, The Guardian, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize, the Massachusetts Book Award, the American Library Association’s Alex Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.