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.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I picked up this book, but I was honestly blown away by what I read! Immediately after picking it up, my friend told me: it’s slow-paced, but with amazing character development (I totally agree). Well alright, I thought, I can handle slow-paced. But in all honesty, I was fascinated by the story from the get-go, and didn’t look back at all. It was a complete page-turner for me, and this novel truly has a lot to offer.
Little Fires Everywhere follows a couple of protagonists, but it mainly follows the story of teenaged Pearl and her mother Mia moving into Shaker Heights, a peculiar community with tightly controlled rules and regulations to maintain the image of a perfect community. They rent a house from the affluent Richardsons, and slowly but surely, the juxtaposed family lives (think Parasite!) mix together until the point where one cannot tell whose has melted into whose. This idyllic situation gets torn asunder when the community is divided on the custody of an Asian baby – which is better for the baby: a struggling single biological mother who abandoned her or an affluent white family so very desperate for a child?
This novel truly explores all the intricacies of such a situation, and just how complex it can get between the ethics, legalities and human empathy. Meanwhile, trouble stirs between the Richardsons and their tenants when the town conflict arises. Little Fires Everywhere is truly an apt title (and is in fact, mentioned on like, the third page) and fires and flames are a huge theme throughout this whole story. Ng makes great use of imagery and symbolism, and I truly enjoyed how the story was so cleverly woven together. If you keep an eye out, there are so many little tidbits to catch, and what could be more exciting than all these Easter eggs left for you by the author?!
As part of the Asian community myself, I quickly found myself wondering what I myself would have done or thought in that situation, and I was honestly just as stumped as everyone in the book. I can understand both sides, and see the unfortunate situation that has arisen between two equally desperate parties. I thought this issue was well addressed and really explored an issue that is more rare in the literary world, and so in that sense I am glad that Ng brings it to life in such an interesting manner. I think regardless of race and background, you too will find yourself caught in the situation presented, unable to fully decide which side should have the upper hand. Find out for yourself on this exciting adventure!
There’s also a TV series based on this book (I believe only on Hulu) – if any of you have read the book and watched the series, let me know! I am unable to access Hulu here, but I would love to know how the adaptation is. Please comment below if you know!
Another book I would highly recommend! Little Fires Everywhere follows the story of a poor nomadic family renting from an affluent one in a quirky town full of rules, which ends up divided over the custody of an abandoned baby. Full of deep characters that are explored ingeniously, and complicated intertwining relationships, this novel also includes some discussion of racial issues and politics! I would especially recommend this to Asian readers, as I think the conflict at hand would be truly relatable, and is not a topic often explored. But regardless, I found that this was a beautiful and evocative story, truly highlighting the highs and low of humanity.