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.
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 principle 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 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…
Little Fires Everywhere is a complex interaction of characters, revealing their intentions and secrets as the slow plot moves forward.
I will admit I was a little confused at the start with the introduction of the Richardson family – there are so many of them in the first scene that I found it hard to picture them immediately. However, they develop into individuals as you read on, the four children reminding me of the Breakfast Club – the jock, the popular girl, the geek and the outcast. But they do gain depth as Ng allows us to watch them face challenges and develop. All except Trip, the jock, his input is minimal.
The story of Mia, and her daughter Pearl, arriving in the restrictive suburbs of Shaker Heights really shakes things up (pun intended). Mia offers an alternative lifestyle to the one enforced at the Heights. She travels around, dragging her daughter from two to town and has very little material possessions. Despite Mia’s secrets, which are revealed later on, she is offered as the moral force of the book. She is the one who gives advice and guidance to those in need (Izzy) and helps in a time of crisis (Lexie). With the backdrop of a court case over whether a Chinese child should be returned to her mother or kept with the affluent family who’ve been raising hr for months, it’s clear who’s side Mia is on. Bebe, the mother, is Mia’s friend, and an an event from Mia’s past helps us understand her allegiances.
All the main characters have depth and complexities, except perhaps for Mrs Richardson who’s development as a character I imagine will happen after this book based on the lessons she’s learned.
I haven’t read a book with an omniscient narrator for quite some time and I found the style refreshing, being able to go into each of the characters lives. There is no doubt that Ng is an amazing writer and her words and imagery are executed beautifully. I can see how this may be a little slow-paced for some readers, and I did actually read two books in the middle of this, but got straight back into it. Definitely worth a read.