Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Publisher: Penguin Press
Release Date: September 12, 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel 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.

Little Fires Everywhere is a lot like Celeste Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, in that it begins at the end and then fills in what happened to get us to that point with veering even further back into various characters’ pasts at times. It opens with Mrs. Richardson standing on her front lawn, watching her house burn down. Then we go back to when Mia and her daughter Pearl first move into the Richardson’s rental property. Mia is an artist, a free spirit, which is unnerving to Mrs. Richardson’s black and white, by the book outlook on the world from the get go. When Mia takes her friend’s side over Mrs. Richardson’s friend’s side in a custody battle over the attempted adoption of a Chinese-American baby, Mrs. Richardson finds that it is the perfect excuse to dig into Mia’s mysterious past. But unbeknownst to her, those in her own family are harboring secrets as well.

Just like in Ng’s first book, the characters in Little Fires Everywhere are well-developed. She delves into their pasts, giving a clear picture for their motivations and letting the readers in on the secrets they hide from one another. Just like in Everything I Never Told You, I wanted to shout at them to just open up and tell the truth – most of their problems could have been dealt with so much easier. But this is not an easy book. Nothing is black and white and I never really quite knew whose side I was on. One of the great things about Ng’s style is that she presents the story in such a balanced way that readers have room to think and feel. She doesn’t manipulate your emotions. For that reason, this would be an excellent book club selection. I could see a discussion about it becoming quite heated!

I looked back to my review of Everything I Never Told You and in it I note that Ng’s prose is beautiful but that she is a little overzealous in her use of metaphor. I didn’t find this to be a problem in Little Fires Everywhere. I loved both books but I think I love this one a little more. There is no sophomore slump going on here! This book is on just about every best of 2017 list there is and rightly so. It’s definitely on mine.

(I received a complimentary copy of this book for review.)

  • bermudaonion(Kathy)

    I liked this book quite a bit but I’m not sure I loved it as much as you did. I wanted a little more out of the ending. I still want to read Everything I Never Told You.

  • Kate Scott

    I have a copy of this and am looking forward to reading it…hopefully by the end of the year! I’ve been impressed with the reviews I’ve seen so far.

  • S.G. Wright

    I’ve heard people have liked this one a bit more than her first novel. I liked her first novel though I found it quite dark. I plan to check out this one too. Thanks for the review of it, quite popular for sure.