Everyone in Shakers 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.
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 the 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 the 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 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 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 an unexpected and devastating cost.
ALL HER LIFE, SHE LEARNED THAT PASSION, LIKE FIRE, WAS A DANGEROUS THING. IT SO EASILY WENT OUT OF CONTROL. IT SCALED WALLS AND JUMPED OVER TRENCHES. SPARKS LEAPT LIKE FLEAS AND SPREAD AS RAPIDLY; A BREEZE COULD CARRY EMBERS FOR MILES. BETTER TO CONTROL THAT SPARK AND PASS IT CAREFULLY FROM ONE GENERATION TO A NEXT, LIKE AN OLYMPIC TORCH. OR, PERHAPS, TO TEND IT CAREFULLY LIKE AN ETERNAL FLAME: A REMINDER OF LIGHT AND GOODNESS THAT WOULD NEVER – COULD NEVER – SET ANYTHING ABLAZE. CAREFULLY CONTROLLED. DOMESTICATED. HAPPY IN CAPTIVITY. THE KEY, SHE THOUGHT, WAS TO AVOID CONFLAGRATION. THIS PHILOSOPHY CARRIED HER THROUGH LIFE, AND SHE ALWAYS FELT, HAD SERVED HER WELL… RULES EXISTED FOR A REASON: IF YOU FOLLOWED THEM, YOU WOULD SUCCEED; IF YOU DIDN’T, YOU MIGHT BURN THE WORLD TO THE GROUND.
If you are going to read one book this year, make it this. Little Fires Everywhere is a masterpiece.
I hadn’t read anything by Ng until I received this book and I hate myself for it because boy, have I been missing out! Everything about this book is compelling from Ng’s talent for weaving words together to produce a gorgeous, insightful and engrossing story, to these characters who had me sobbing into my pillow at three in the morning. It’s times like these when I get to read a novel of sheer brilliance that I am reminded why I love being a book blogger so damn much.
I don’t often read domestic novels and was a little unsure whether I’d gel with it, but I just got sucked in. Little Fires Everywhere explores living in the Clinton era and the issues that were prevalent at the time, but the themes and the writing that Ng and her characters explore are still so relatable today from interracial adoptions to abortions. Ng has crafted these characters so intricately that they immediately feel like people you know. Their struggles are relatable, their flaws are scarily familiar, and I think that you can empathise to some degree with every single character which is a surprise. No matter who you root for, there’s no clear villain. Whether it’s the custody battle for the Chinese-American baby between Bebe and the McCulloughs or the clash of Mrs. Richardson’s ethics to Mia’s arts, you can never truly hate the other party. Ng has done something truly rare and in the process reminds us just how chaotic and messy reality is.
Little Fires Everywhere is packed full of powerful and provocative moments. Yet, it was the moment where Ed Lim addresses the lack of understanding towards diversity and the absentmindedness of the privileged that stands out the most to me. The moment where he talks about struggling to find his daughter a Chinese Barbie is so poignant and evokes memories of my own childhood. I was a late 90s baby who was doll-obsessed and I do remember there being a small introduction of diverse dolls with the Bratz franchise, but it was still incredibly hard to find a doll that wasn’t porcelain skinned with blonde hair. It was incredibly hard to find Asian anything and it’s still disheartening to see the lack of Asian talent being given a platform in the arts and media so I was incredibly thrilled to see Ng touch upon that.
I’m fearful of saying too much and ruining it because half the fun of reading Little Fires Everywhere was being so certain you knew what was happening and then having Ng pull the rug from under your feet with these little revelations and bombshells that tear you apart and cause you to revaluate everything you thought you knew.
Little Fires Everywhere surprised me with just how emotional it is with the tender and witty way that Ng intertwines these issues of race, parenthood and politics. It’ll devastate you, but in the best kind of way. It’s no surprise to see that Reese Witherspoon has already snapped up the rights to develop it into a mini-series and I absolutely cannot wait! It’s undoubtedly one of the best novels of this year… and quite possibly ever! Celeste Ng, you are a genius.
This book is an instant classic and I demand you read it now.