Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood--and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.

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"Witty, wise and tender. It's a marvel." – Paula Hawkins, New York Times-bestselling author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water

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

"I read Little Fires Everywhere in a single, breathless sitting.  With brilliance and beauty, Celeste Ng dissects a microcosm of American society just when we need to see it beneath the microscope..." –Jodi Picoult, New York Times-bestselling author of Small Great Things and Leaving Time
 
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.


Advance Galley Reviews

I enjoyed Celeste Ng's previous work, and I was just as engrossed with this one. She carefully picks apart the complicated ties that bind together our lives, exploring what it means to be a parent, a friend, a child. I'm still thinking about the characters now, even though I've read the last page. Where are they now? Will they ever unravel the stories of who they are meant to be, to themselves and to each other?

This was a beautiful book. It's complex, multi-layered, and filled with striking images that form an eclectic cast of unforgettable characters. I actually enjoyed this book much more than Ms. Ng's debut novel, and I think it has much more depth to it. Covering issues of isolation, secrecy, race, morals, and youth, LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE covers a lot of ground that's worth investigating. While it's not a perfect novel (some of the characters felt stereotyped, and their transformations at times felt summarized rather than depicted), it is one that will leave you thinking for weeks after you've made it through the striking ending which so perfectly answers the story's beginning (a seemingly classic Ng move at this point). For those of you who have read it, if Mrs. Richardson's fateful ending doesn't give you goosebumps, then I'm not sure what else could. This book was a pleasure to read, and it's exciting to see the author developing as a writer and strengthening her craft with the sophomore release.

I have tried to read this book at least five times. I have only made it to page 16. This book is definitely not for me. Life s too short to waste my time on a book that does not grab my attention.

Little Fires was one of the very best books that I have ever had the opportunity to read. I had never even heard of this author before and was so glad that I got the opportunity to review this book. The storyline, description, and characters were so well written that I felt that I was in the story. I loved the characters of Mia and Eliza and found them to be complex and loved unwrapping their stories. I have added Everything I Never Told You to my wish list and will be purchasing this soon.

Author Celeste Ng writes beautifully and engagingly while exploring personal identity across the lifespan, juxtaposed with physical appearances. She began this discussion with her first book, Everything I Never Told You, but she raises it to new heights with this, her second, Little Fires Everywhere. The action takes place in Shaker Heights, outside of Cleveland, a planned community of upper middle-class lives determined to function in a very organized, routine fashion. Into this mix arrives a single mother, an artist, living a purposefully unorganized life, and her teen daughter, now yearning for routine. The artist and her daughter rent an apartment from the 'perfect' family with 4 teenagers and the artist eventually works part-time as their housekeeper. Boundaries are crossed when different teens are drawn to different lifestyles and to one another. Teens always reawaken their parents' earlier yearnings, and so will these. It's a complex mix especially when additional factors are added that only add to the story. This is one juicy tale and the author handles it so deftly, it takes time to appreciate all of her skills. She has so many. The characters are fascinating and fully-developed. I feel I know them; I can anticipate them. I may not like them but they are real to me. The story is multi-layered and complex enough that there is more than enough to engage me. There are ongoing issues that must be resolved in the plot that move it forward but there are also back stories and side stories that inform and engage. There were a few places where I got antsy, so the story was taut enough that I needed to keep moving forward. This is another great book from a first class author. I feel very lucky to have received a copy from Penguin's First to Read Program.

I very much enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere. It was a departure for me and one I'm pleased to have taken. The setting of Shaker Heights was interesting as it takes place in my home state and in an area I am familiar with. I appreciate that the characters are well drawn, complicated humans, very realistic in my view. The novel has a nice pace as the story unfolds and I found myself racing through to the end. I highly recommend this interesting, and to me, unique book. I can't wait to read more from Celeste Ng

I absolutely loved this book. Celeste Ng's writing is just so delightful and beautiful. This book is a complicated story about motherhood and family, specifically what it means to be family by blood or family by choice. There's a bit of a mystery to it, but the main draw is the fantastic characters. Each of the women in this book are complicate, not always likable, but always real. I couldn't put it down.

Little Fires Everywhere is genial. The construction of the plot and the depth of the characters had me hooked from the start. It dialogues about so much; about becoming a teenager, about first loves. about family and most brilliantly about motherhood. Ng composed layers and layers of articulate personalities that carry secrets and strong bonds. As the narrative takes place the setting starts to bring little criticisms to the controversial topics occurring (abortion, adoption, racial issues, the tough decisions of motherhood), that are all placed with many different points of view. All the while mysteries surround the story, underlining the build-up to the little fires, intensifying all that is slowly uncovered. This is definitely one of the best books I have read this year and already have plans in re-reading.

This book is everything to me. Little Fires Everywhere touched me deeply in its discussion of motherhood and adoption (in many forms). As an adopted Chinese-American, I underestimated the pull it would have for me. Please learn from my mistakes. Little Fires Everywhere is a must read for anyone who is a mother, would like to become a mother, or is interested in a careful exploration of what motherhood means. Shaker Heights is all about planning. They plan what color your houses can be based on the style, how tall your lawn can go, and what the streets look like from the outside. The Richardson matriarch, Elena, has lived by this principle. She has carefully calculated her life. But she never could have expected Mia Warren and her daughter to not only shake the foundations of their community, but to change her family forever. Mia is an artist and single mother who rents the Richardson’s duplex. Soon all four Richardson children are drawn to the pair, attaching like barnacles or in love. However, Mia is different from most others in Shaker Heights. Not only does she have a dangerous secret, but she does not mind rocking the boat. When a pair of family friends of the Richardsons try to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle breaks forth that divides families and puts the town at opposition with itself. Even more so, Elena and Mia seem to be on rival sides. I took three pages of notes on this book, so to say I loved it and it made me think is an understatement. What I loved so much about this book had to be the discussion of motherhood. Ng masterfully weaves us a narrative that examines the idea of motherhood under a magnifying glass and from many angles. We see those who do not wish to become mothers, those who desperately desire children, and even those who deemed ‘unacceptable’ mothers. The last categorization of mothers is incredibly touching to me, because it interacts with the adoption narrative – which is extremely personal to me. Ng asks us if there is something essential about the connection between a mother and a child, if nurture could erase this bond. We are also asked who defines an (un)fit mother/family? Is it about our circumstances now or does it apply to our potential? In this space of debate, Ng opens up a discussion about the pressures and responsibilities we put on mothers. We expect mothers to ‘raise their children better’ (or what they mean by this is raise their daughters better so that they do not become mothers themselves), and infallible, magically able to make anything work, even if they are desperately poor and have a moment of doubt. (Not to mention the utter irony of the singular responsibility of women to ‘know better’ about having children, as if accidents or other parties were not involved). Another moving topic that Ng deals with is the subtle racism still prevalent in American culture – the way the Asian identity is erased. Even growing up, I felt the same struggles of finding dolls or books that reflected who I am. I remember it was a huge deal in my house because the American Doll Company had no Asian ‘American Girl’. A lot of what I was able to find was fetishized, or how Western culture interpreted Chinese culture. Not only is this a factor in the adoption debate, but a beam of light is shed on this aspect through a side character. (Additionally, I found the argument of ‘not seeing race’ to be particularly insightful in this book. There’s this tension between those in the community who believe they’re above race, while still feeling as if they are being ‘compassionate’ to those below them by throwing them the bones. At the same time, there’s the very real issue of ethnicity that I briefly talk about above). I absolutely loved the characters of Mia, Pearl, and Elena’s daughter Izzy. In Mia I saw her resilience, her strength of spirit, and I loved seeing her backstory told through her perspective. Mia is incredibly insightful not only about art, but also life. I understood the difficulty of Izzy’s life – surrounded by people who do not understand her. Izzy almost became this silent underdog of my affection. She was fierce, compassionate, and incredibly misunderstood. And in Pearl I saw myself – the determination, the understanding, and the kindness. While I understood Elena’s character, she was a person I found difficult to like. But in that way, I think Ng did a fantastic job with her. She is not a ‘villain’ or a ‘hero’. Instead she is complicated – fighting a deep repressed sense of regret with a strict view of the world as black and white. I did not agree with her actions at all – but she sticks with you. Ultimately, we end with her story. The book is framed by a family tragedy from her perspective. And in this, Ng seems to ask us if people can change. (The entire ending for Mia and Pearl, Izzy, and Elena were perfect. There was this sense of poetic justice and hopefulness to it. Ng does not give us an easy ending either, as some resolutions to threads in the plot still give us pause to question). I could go on for days about this book, about its lush writing, about its look at class differences, or even its evocative descriptions of art. But to say the least, I loved it all. Little Fires Everywhere is one of those rare books where I loved every aspect – plot, setting, writing, and characters. I loved the mysterious plot and family secrets of Mia combined with Richardson children and adoption storyline. The setting of Shaker Heights is detailed and evokes some sort of mix between ‘Pleasantville’ and The Stepford Wives to me. I fell in love with the writing – the way the theme of motherhood is refracted in multiple lights and the exploration of mother/daughter relationships. And I enjoyed the characters, even the ones I disliked. There is an art form to writing a novel that incites passion, debate, and three pages of notes and Little Fires Everywhere is that novel.

This the the type of story that once I have started reading... I immediately want to go back and reread. While, to me, the transitions are clear, ichaoters are not entirely chronologically. We start with a fire and the family's reactions to it... and end with the family's continued reactions. In between we learn of the many shades of grey that the characters live in. Despite starting with a fire,I found the story was a bit slow at the start. However it picks up speed and I practically ran through the second half of the book. I cannot wait to reread it!

 


More to Explore

  • Everything I Never Told You

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