You know that picture-perfect suburb? Watch as dirty secrets and juicy neighborhood drama bring it down in flames.
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Why I love it
You know the feeling: with a certain kind of novel, you suspend all disbelief from the get-go. This world, this setting, these characters, seem so real and inviting that you give yourself up to them completely—it’s a bit like falling in love.
Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere is one of those special books. Set in wealthy Shaker Heights, Ohio, in the 1990s, it’s the story of how two very different families both come together and break apart. The families live a mile apart in this wealthy planned community with rules governing everything down to the colors of the houses. Beyond that, their circumstances couldn’t be more different. The Richardsons—journalist Elena, attorney Bill, and their four teenage children—thrive in this cosseted suburban splendor, their sprawling, gracious home the embodiment of order and privilege. The "other family," the Warrens—Mia, a footloose artist and single mom to 15-year-old Pearl—have landed in the neighborhood’s most modest home with the hopes that Pearl can take advantage of its top-notch schools after years of contented wandering.
And Pearl ends up getting an education, all right, but not exactly the one her mom had in mind. They rent their bare-bones apartment from the Richardsons and before long the families find themselves intertwined. Mia’s creative energy intrigues the convention-bound Richardson kids even as Elena’s stability and creature-comforts attract Pearl. With teenage hormones added to the mix, the situation turns out to be combustible.
Ng excels at characterization: She’s juggling a lot of characters here, but each one feels fully realized and relatable. And she’s no slouch at suspense. The novel opens with the Richardson home up in flames and the Warrens leaving town—you spend the next 360 pages dying to know how events could possibly lead to that. Best of all is the story’s multidimensionality. Themes of class, individuality vs. community, the shadows cast by our pasts, and the true meaning of motherhood play out not just in the main story but in a subplot about the contested adoption of a Chinese baby by a Shaker Heights family. Each thread of the plot comes together without seeming forced.
I finished Little Fires Everywhere fully satisfied—yet also not quite ready to leave the world Ng so deftly created.
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting story set in meticulously planned Shaker Heights 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 teenaged 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.