Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Publisher: Penguin Press
Genre: Recent Historical, Women’s Fiction
Length: Full Length (347 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

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.
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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.

There is a lot going on in this book.

I picked this up because it was recommended to me. It’s also set in a town, Shaker Heights, that’s not far from me. So it was a little like reading about places I knew. A little. It’s set in the late 90’s. I knew that time well.

The Richardson children and Pearl are interesting characters. In one way, they’re stereotypes of kids from that era. They could kind of be stereotypes of kids right now, too. Izzy is the kid who colors outside of the lines–all the time. Moody follows the rules to a T. Tripp is the quintessential jock who thinks of no one but himself. Lexie is the self-absorbed rich girl who has dreams only fit for a teenager. Then there’s Pearl. She’s been sheltered for a long time and when she finally comes out of her shell, she still isn’t sure who she wants to be.

Now don’t think this story is only about the kids. The city of Shaker and its planning plays a role in this book. Lots of things in life are planned–school, activities, graduation…when to have kids. But a lot of things can’t be controlled. That’s the overriding theme of this book–you can try to control a lot, but that’s when the great unknown throws curveballs to make sure you’re paying attention.

There are a few side stories in this book and each shows how the characters grow through the story. I liked and didn’t like how they changed. Some came into their own, while others seemed even more lost. I have to say Moody, the younger son, was my favorite because I saw a lot of my own tot in this young man. He wanted to be loved, followed the rules and seemed to be the most invisible.

If you’re looking for a novel that’s heavy on character and good for an afternoon read, then this might be the book for you.

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