‘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.’
A great opening line for for an excellent book.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng has been on my radar for quite some time. Due to an overwhelming amount of ARCs (Not complaining!!!) in my current pile I never actually got around to picking up this book until recently. A reading buddy gave me a loan of her copy and I finally figured it was time to read a book that was ‘off-the-ARC-tbr-grid’.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s so very different, so thought-provoking, so addictive in it’s writing style….I wanted more!
Published by Little, Brown Book Group in September 2017, Little Fires Everywhere has been the recipient of many awards, all very deserved.
Please do read on for my thoughts..
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 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 cost.
Elena Richardson lives the perfect life, in the perfect house, with the perfect husband and family in Shaker Heights, Cleveland Ohio. Born and bred in Shaker Heights, Elena Richardson pushed aside any aspirations to spread her wings and leave the area, choosing to marry and remain a stalwart member of the community. Her life is mapped out and in Elena’s mind that includes the lives of her four children, Tripp, Lexie, Moody and Izzy. But as we all know, life never quite goes according to plan.
One Saturday morning, the local residents are shaken out of their weekend reverie by the sounds of fire engines. ‘All six bedrooms of the Richardson house were ablaze, and everyone within a half mile could see the smoke rising over the trees like a dense black thundercloud.’
Elena Richardson had decided to linger on in bed that morning but had been awoken to the sharp screech of the smoke alarm in her house. As she rushed around the rooms making sure there was no-one else there, she was witness to the most unusual scene of ‘a small crackling fire set directly in the middle of each bed, as if a demented Girl Scout had been camping there’
Now standing outside in just her robe, Elena Richardson looks on as the fire department battle the blaze and her perfect house is destroyed. There is a major shift in the world as Elena has known it, a movement that she had felt building up over the previous few months. The day Mia Warren arrived into Shaker Heights with her daughter Pearl was the day the wind changed.
Shaker Heights, a picturesque community, is described as an almost flawless neighbourhood. Strict standards are maintained, as housing regulations and the general behaviour of the local residents, is all very structured. The people living in this community abide by these rules and choose to live their lives in accordance with the city’s laws in order to maintain, at all times, a safe and idyllic existence.
(An aside ~ I have to hold my hands up at this point and admit that I honestly thought Shaker Heights was a fictitious place. But I soon realised, not only does it exist, but it is also the home town of Celeste Ng. Making this discovery cast a new light on my reading experience and I felt almost voyeur-like reading through the novel.)
Mia Warren is a catalyst within the community sending a gentle ripple of change through the people she comes in contact with. Mia is an artist with incredible talent but she is hiding away from society, always on the move with her now teenage daughter Pearl. When they reach Shaker Heights, Mia makes a decision to stay put for awhile, to give Pearl a better chance at living her teenage years, a chance to make friends and to be involved in regular teenage activities. She rents accommodation from Elena Richardson and life takes on a new shape for Mia. As the barriers fall down, Pearl and Mia slowly become part of the community, with all four of the Richardson children attracted to Mia and Pearl. The arrival of this mother and daughter inject something fresh and new into their lives, especially for the youngest, Izzy. Izzy, a rebel from a young age does not live according to the rules of Shaker Heights and Mia Warren is different, exciting, creative, everything her own mother is not.
As a situation arises in the community over the adoption of a Chinese-American baby, Mia soon finds herself exposed and more involved in the case than she would have wished for. Elena and Mia are soon at odds with each other resulting in raised tensions and some very unsettling behaviour.
Celeste Ng has written a distinguished book that became an instant New York Times bestseller. With a list of accolades including: Amazon’s Best Novel 2017, Winner of the Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award 2017 (Fiction) and named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Buzzfeed, Washington Post, Barnes & Noble, Esquire and many more, Little Fires Everywhere is an outstanding read for a variety of reasons.
For me, reminiscent of Chocolat by Joanne Harris, Little Fires Everywhere explores how one individual can unwittingly impact the lives of so many. There is a poignancy to each individual’s story, as we witness how a gentle push, an expression of love, a desire to be different can influence the direction and path of a person’s journey.
Little Fires Everywhere is a highly intelligent novel that raises many questions about motherhood and life, a book that inspires hope, even among the ashes, and explores the meaning of love and what it is to be loved.
Purchase Link ~ Little Fires Everywhere
Celeste Ng is the author of two novels, Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere.
Celeste Ng 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 and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Website ~ https://www.celesteng.com/
Twitter ~ @pronounced_ing
What a fantastic and detailed review! You’ve certainly confirmed I did the right thing buying this book. I haven’t read Chocolat but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film so I’m glad to see that this one was reminiscent in theme.
Janel thank you so much. There are 2 more books after Chocolat which continue the tale. Highly recommend all 3…gorgeous books. Also if you haven’t read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett…similar feel.