Little Fires Everywhereby Celeste Ng Published 12 Sep 2017
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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
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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“Little Fires Everywhere” is my first read by Celeste Ng, but I’m pretty sure that it won’t be my last. I could easily have read this book in just one or two sittings but life got in the way (in this case life being a glass of 7up, a knee jerk and “Nooo! Save the books!”). But once the book was dry, I picked it up again and didn’t stop until I finished the last page.
Everything in Shaker Heights is planned and there are rules that residents must follow. Houses can only be painted certain colors (to ensure aesthetic harmony), garbage is never put out in front of the house, lawns must always be cut promptly, etc.
The city motto says it all:
“Most communities just happen; the best are planned”
When Mia Warren and her fifteen year old daughter, Pearl rent a home from the Richardsons, a prominent Shaker Heights family – their lives will become intertwined in ways they never could have imagined.
Mrs. Richardson liked to rent to people she felt were deserving of her help, people who may have had some tough turns in life. She felt it was her way of giving back. When she first meets Mia Warren and her daughter she thinks they are the perfect tenants.
One of the Richardson boys, Moody is curious about the new tenants and heads over to the rental property. Moody and Pearl hit it off immediately. Moody who has never wanted for anything, is surprised at how this mother and daughter make their way. Mia can stretch a dollar (and leftover food) farther than anyone he’s ever seen. It’s not long before Moody brings Pearl home to meet everyone. Soon Pearl is spending much of her time at the Richardson home. At first, everything is fantastic. Mrs. Richardson even hires Mia to do some housekeeping and cooking at the Richardson home. But it won’t be long before the many differences between Mia and Mrs. Richardson cause a divide that will affect the two families in unimaginable ways.
In some ways, I felt bad for Pearl as the nomadic life that her mother had them living would be hard on anyone, especially a teenage girl. However, Pearl also seemed to benefit from the way they lived. At first, Mia came across as incredibly selfish but it wasn’t long before I loved her. Her caring ways were evident and how she responded to the different crises that came up endeared her to me. I may not have agreed with all of her choices but I could certainly see how she would have made them.
Right off the bat I was irked by Mrs. Richardson (the fact that she was rarely referred to by her first name was fitting). Mrs. Richardson was the type who wanted to be seen as someone who cared and helped others. However, you could tell right away that she kept track of all the good things she had done. And you never knew when Mrs. Richardson would want a repayment of her “kindness”. When she offers to buy one of Mia’s photographs and Mia doesn’t fall at her feet with gratitude...
“That’s very generous of you.” Mia’s eyes slid toward the window briefly and Mrs. Richardson felt a twinge of irritation at this lukewarm response to her philanthropy.
Izzy was a firecracker and I adored her impulsiveness and strong feelings about right and wrong. Even at ten years old, setting shelter cats free “They’re like prisoners on death row” , her refusal to conform was thrilling. Mrs. Pissers and the toothpick incident had me giggling. And I hurried to Google to search “This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin.
There was a lot going on in “Little Fires Everywhere” but I found it easy to keep up. I will say that it had a bit of a slow start but I feel the author was just setting the stage for all that was to come. And once I hit the halfway mark, I was so completely invested into all of their lives and HAD to know what was going to happen next.
The additional story-line of little Mirabelle McCullough/May Ling Chow’s adoption was incredibly thought provoking and had me asking myself some hard questions. I honestly didn’t know which side I was on half the time. My head was spinning.
“What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”
I thought that the development of the characters was fantastic. With so many characters and only so many pages, it takes skill to bring them all to life. And in my opinion; Celeste Ng did a phenomenal job. And with the many 90’s references such as Sir-Mix-a-lot, Smashing Pumpkins, Jerry Springer, and Monica Lewinsky - I was taken back to my own adolescence.
This was an intriguing and compelling domestic drama. A story about motherhood, adolescence, race, rules, right and wrong, and so much more. Great characters and an interesting plot made “Little Fires Everywhere” a fast and fantastic read.
Many thanks go to Penguin Press for providing a copy of this book for me to read in exchange for my honest review.
If this book does not get your brain churning, well, then you did read the same book I just did!
This book is filled with so many scenarios with so many questions and no perfect answers. Every situation is a little pile of kindling and any of the questionable solutions will only ignite the fire . . . soon you have a bunch of fires ready to burn everything to the ground. Man, that would be a great title for this book! Oh . . . wait . . .
It has been a long time since I remember reading a book where my mind and problem solving skills have been this challenged. Usually when you are reading you think, "well, the best route for them to follow is this" or "Geez, it's obvious that they should never have done that." In this book I just kept thinking, "I am glad I am not the one who has to make any of these decisions!"
Also, this book is full of so many misunderstandings. I get frustrated when someone is falsely accused or the wrong conclusion is assumed. Every 15 minutes I found myself yelling at this book!
"IT WASN'T HER!"
"NO, THAT'S NOT WHAT HAPPENED! SOMEONE SPEAK UP!"
"OH, THIS ISN'T GOING TO END WELL!"
I believe I have said it before, but any time a book has you engaged so much you yell at it, want to pull the characters out of the pages and shake them, and/or need a stiff drink to calm your nerves at the end of each chapter, you are reading a pretty darn good book.
Give your analytical side a gift and read this book - it would be a great one for a book club. I imagine it would certainly lead to some lively discussion!
So, self-identification determines if a book is YA? Based on more than 60% of the content, this is young adult material. It’s good; parts are excellent, others not so much.
I liked Mia’s backstory as she became an artist using experimental photography. I thought that the custody dispute concerning “Oriental Barbie” was worth at least a star or two.
A lot of the characters are clichéd. The at-home Mr. Richardson could be a cardboard cutout with excellent earning skills. He fairs a lot better before the judge. The Richardson children fit into “The Breakfast Club” well. A jock, a popular girl, a smart kid and Izzy who may well be a transgendered Holden Caulfield (thank you to my GR friend, Bill Kupersmith), but I liked her a lot more than that wretched boy.
So yeah, the Richardson’s have a child for each grade in high-school. Mrs. Richardson produced four singletons in roughly as many years. While in other respects, she is a perfect match for her orderly and rule-bound community. The rapid-fire baby production seemed reckless and out of place. It is the only part of her character that jibbed with aggressively investigating her tenant and employee’s past. Opening a ‘can of worms’ and a house full of screaming babies being equally disordered and unpredictable.
I don’t believe that she is meant to be likable. She approaches friendship with same calculation as Claire Underwood with a careful tally of every kindness. But, as she is central to the book, I wish she were plausible. Even if she were perfectly constructed, the story is still awfully scattered.
My son heard part of the book while we were driving over the holidays. When we stopped, he would say “So” and give a one-sentence summary of the upcoming section or chapter. I don’t believe he has any preternatural gifts as plot savant. A lot of the story is pretty predictable.
I have a quibble about that car. Is that the same VW rabbit Mia’s brother bought when they were teenagers? If so, how did she manage vehicle maintenance on minimum wage earnings supplemented by occasionally selling a piece of art? Twenty to thirty years of use is aging NASA spacecraft territory, but this car starts reliably, runs well over long distances, and doesn’t need any repairs. It seems oddly out of place given the careful mathematics of Bebe’s poverty.
P.S. I stand corrected my son says he is too a plot savant.
5 Amazing Bright Shiny Stars! I would give it 100 if Goodreads would let me.
Little Fires Everywhere is a novel that far surpasses any other that I have ever read. I don't know how Celeste Ng did it. It is a brilliantly written novel with intricate, rich and wholly vivid characters whose lives are so fully intertwined you can't help but read on in bewildered awe of how Celeste Ng created these characters. My nerve endings were fully engaged on high alert from the first sentence.
Shaker Heights, Ohio is an affluent town with rules and regulations like no other. Mrs. Richardson lives by them, having been raised by them and she has raised her four children (Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy) to abide by them as well. She rents a little apartment in Shaker Heights to Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, who are less fortunate. Mia is a free spirited artist, who lives life to the fullest. These women have one thing in common and one thing only: they love their children immensely and they accept each other's as their own. Mia (or rather Ms. Ng) describes it beautifully:
"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. You could see it every time you looked at her; layered in her face was the baby she'd been and the child she'd become and the adult she would grow up to be and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was like a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again."
Neither live perfect lives, sometimes in fact they make grave mistakes, yet their love for their children never falters.
These mothers relationships with each other, their family and everyone in town is threatened when a custody battle ensues between a friend of the Richardsons, Mrs. and Mr. McCullough, who are in the middle of adopting a Chinese American baby and a friend of Mia's, Bebe, who is the birth mother. This battle wrecks havoc on the town and causes incredible strife between the families.
This novel is captivating and crazy compelling. These characters burn an indelible image onto your soul. The character of Izzy, Mrs. Richardson's daughter had me from the beginning (kind of like Hannah from Ms. Ng's Everything I Never Told You - which I also loved). Izzy has a strength and over came odds that most children in her position wouldn't. Her triumphs made my heart soar.
Somehow Ms. Ng made me change my mind about some of the characters throughout the course of this novel. In the beginning, I felt one way about two of the characters and then by the end, I did a complete switcheroo, and my feelings about them were FIERCE.
Little Fires everywhere brought forth laughter and lots of tears. It is that kind of novel. I can't recommend it highly enough. It is captivating, compelling and full of heart and soul. Celeste Ng's ability to intertwine the characters and storylines was wondrous, brilliant and beautiful. I loved every second of this book. It has now topped my list as my FAVORITE BOOK of ALL TIME.
Little Fires Everywhere was a Traveling Sister Group Read and included Brenda, Norma, Jennifer, Holly, Melissa & Kendall. We all had a fabulous time reading this one together - the group discussions for this incredible read were amazing and I look forward to our next read together.
For the full Traveling Sisters Group Review, please see Norma and Brenda's Blog:
Thank you to Edelweiss, Penguin Press and Celeste Ng for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Published on Goodreads, Edelweiss and Amazon on 9.17.17.
The Richardson family lives a perfect life, planned to a T and that's what Elena Richardson, her husband and four children seem to have, at least to fifteen year old Pearl Warren. Pearl moves with her itinerant artist mother, Mia, into a rental house owned by the Richardsons in Shaker Heights and becomes infatuated with this family, their house, their life style so different from her own and is mostly infatuated with three of the teenage siblings. The reader though knows from the get go that there's no perfection here . An awful thing happens to this family and we know what it is from the first sentence but I won't give it away.
The Shaker Heights motto is: "Most communities just happen; the best are planned " : the underlying philosophy being that everything could - and should- be planned out, and that by doing so you could avoid the unseemly, the unpleasant, and the disastrous." The truth is that life happens and no matter what - things cannot be avoided and what happens here defies this underlying philosophy.
But this is not the most awful thing that happens in this family. For me it was the dysfunctional relationship that Elena has with her youngest daughter Izzy . Izzy reminds me in some ways of Hannah in Ng's last book, Everything I Never Told You. Unlike Hannah, Izzy is not invisible not totally ignored, but she is picked on, made fun of and seems to always be the recipient of her mother's impatience with things that are not perfect. Theirs is not the only mother-daughter relationship that Ng focuses on . There is Mia and Pearl, who move from place to place, with Pearl not knowing the reason why or who her father was. There is Bebe, Mia's coworker, and her newborn baby May-Ling that she abandons and then fights to get custody. Bebe's story at first seems secondary but it ends up being the impetus for Elena's almost obsessive search to find out Mia's past.
Ng delves deep into her characters and you feel you know them inside and out even though it takes until the end to fully understand Elena and Izzy. You may not like all of them but you will understand them . This I find to be Ng's strength as a writer- how she makes us know her characters. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel, is when the Richardsons find the photographs that Mia leaves for them. She came to know them too . Definitely recommended to those who were fans of Everything I Never Told You, and stories of families who are less than perfect, which I'm sure many of us can relate to.
I received an advanced copy of this book from Penguin Publishing Group through Edelweiss.
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