Little Fires Everywhere: A Novel

by Celeste Ng

Paperback, 2019




Penguin Books (2019), Edition: Reprint, 368 pages


From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, the intertwined stories of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the 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.… (more)


(2294 ratings; 4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member nbmars
This novel opens at the end of the story, with the Richardson family contemplating the smoldering ruins of their house in Shaker Heights, Ohio. “‘The firemen said there were little fires everywhere,’ one of the Richardson kids said to the others. ‘Multiple points of origin. Possible use of
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accelerant. Not an accident.’” The rest of the book explains what led to the fire, and what was the double meaning of “little fires everywhere.”

There is a somewhat long epigraph at the beginning of the book, but it explains a great deal:

“Actually, though, all things considered, people from Shaker Heights are basically pretty much like people everywhere else in America. They may have three or four cars instead of one or two, and they may two television sets instead of one, and when a Shaker Heights girl gets married she may have a reception for eight hundred, with band flown in from New York, instead of a wedding reception for a hundred with a local band, but these are all differences of degree rather than fundamental differences.” Cosmopolitan, March 1963

This very amusing and ironic passage is reminiscent of the US Magazine feature: “Movie Stars: They’re just like us!” (They go to Starbucks! They shop for groceries! They have babies!)

But in fact, the 1% are not just like us, but it is hard for them to see that fact. When a white male walks into a room full of other white males, he gets no sense what it must be like to enter that same room as a black male, or a female of any color. He generally has a sense of comfort, not of difference or even potential threat. Similarly, the denizens of Shaker Heights have a blindness to privilege and a worldview that bestows an easy confidence on those who have never known what it is like to be free from want or prejudice. As Pearl, a tenant of the family’s, wonders in awe:

“Where did this ease come from? How could they be so at home, so sure of themselves, even in pajamas?”

There is a cost, however, to living like this. There are “rules” in Shaker Heights, both those imposed by the community and those internalized by the inhabitants.

Some of those in this rich milieu feel constraints, even if they don’t lack confidence and the sense of owning the world that being in the upper 1% can confer. One constraint is noblesse oblige, or the idea of a responsibility to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged - that is, as long as it (a) makes the privileged person feel good and (b) doesn’t really inconvenience the privileged person. A second constraint is the one that keeps Elena Richardson, the matriarch of this family, in a metaphorical cage. Elena always feels she must maintain control over appetites and emotions. She monitors what she eats, what she wears, and what she feels: “All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control.”

The Richardsons own a rental house in a less prosperous part of Shaker Heights, one of a long line of duplexes. When Elena Richardson meets her new tenants, Mia Warren, 36 and her daughter Pearl, 15, she is both fascinated and envious. Mia is an artist, and works at menial, odd jobs only just enough to allow her to buy supplies and time to dedicate to her photography. Mia doesn’t care if they don’t have a lot of possessions or amenities, and worst of all to Elena, seems happy in spite of it. Elena thinks about Mia: “You can’t just do what you want… Why should Mia get to, when no one else did?"

Indeed, Mia is the opposite of Elena in many ways. Elena grew up in Shaker Heights, and always wanted to return:

“She had had a plan, from girlhood on, and had followed it scrupulously: high school, college, boyfriend, marriage, job, mortgage, children. … She had, in short, done everything right and she had built a good life, the kind of life she wanted, the kind of life everyone wanted."

Although, not "everyone" as it turns out: it was not the kind of life Mia wants, and her very existence challenges everything Elena has been brought up to value.

But Pearl is not like Mia either. She wants some stability for a change, and with the Richardson kids, she finds friendship and first love. She spends more and more time at the Richardson’s. She is friends with both 15-year-old Moody and 18-year-old Lexie, and has a crush on 17-year-old Trip. In addition, she basks in the differences she observes between her off-beat existence and the Richardson’s predictable, comfortable, and easy life of affluence.

Meanwhile, fourteen-year-old Izzy, Elena’s youngest daughter, finds a mother in Mia she never had at home. Izzy and her mother have a destructive relationship, originating before Izzy was even born. The pregnancy was not risk-free, nor was Izzy out of danger after birth. Elena saw Izzy, who never - even before birth, followed the pattern Elena expected, as consistently causing trouble for her. The three older kids knew their mother always seemed to have it in for Izzy, but the reasons were unclear to them. After a while, there was an unbreakable dynamic, with Elena criticizing and Izzy reacting:

“Of course, the more Izzy pushed, the more anger stepped in to shield her mother’s old anxiety, like a shell covering a snail. ‘My god, Izzy,’ Mrs. Richardson said, over and over again, ‘what is wrong with you?’”

Elena is consistently nasty to Izzy. Mia, on the other hand, is welcoming and nurturing.

So a main theme of the book is: what makes someone a mother? What is best for a child? A biological mother, or someone who can give the child what he or she needs? The links between Pearl and the Richardsons, and between Izzy and Mia, are mirrored in the main source of gossip and upheaval in Shaker Heights, involving the McCullough family.

Linda McCullough (a friend of Elena’s), and her husband Mark, couldn’t have children. They had been trying to adopt, and got a call from the fire station that an Asian baby, “May Ling,” was left there. Linda went all out to welcome the newly renamed “Mirabelle McCullough.” All is going well for Linda until Mia figures out that the baby was left by one of her restaurant co-workers, Bebe Chow. Bebe was desperate to get her baby back, and Mia tells Bebe where May Ling is. Before long, a custody battle ensues. The whole neighborhood gets involved in a discussion over which woman would be the best mother for the baby.

Part of the issue is the cultural heritage of the baby. When Bebe’s lawyer questions Linda about how she will teach the child about Chinese culture, Linda, with perfect cluelessness and convinced in any event of the superiority of her own culture, says she will take Mirabelle to Chinese restaurants.

Elena, also incognizant about the racism that informs her opinions, is adamant that the wealthy white families of Shaker Heights offer advantages the Asian biological mother could not: “Honestly, I think this is a tremendous thing for Mirabelle. She’ll be raised in a home that truly doesn’t see race. That doesn’t care, not one infinitesimal bit, what she looks like. What could be better than that?”

As the case drags on without the expected easy resolution in favor of the McCulloughs, Elena becomes increasingly angry at Mia and obsessively determined to exact revenge on her friend’s behalf. But actually, there is more to it:

“She would never admit even to herself that it hadn’t been about the baby at all: it had been some complicated thing about Mia herself, the dark discomfort this woman stirred up that Mrs. Richardson would have much preferred to have kept in its box.”

Elena uses her skills and contacts as a reporter for the local paper to dig up dirt on Mia, and before long, her vendetta both creates and reveals “little fires everywhere.” Together, the "fires" combine to burn down the Richardson house, both in fact and in metaphor.

Discussion: Although this is an excellent book, I had trouble sticking with it only because I loathed Elena Richardson so thoroughly. But that was certainly by the author's design. And while I never had any sympathy for Elena, the author does an excellent job shading most of the other characters - especially the kids, with both good and bad overtones.

The story raises many questions that will engage readers. Motherhood and family are treated as concepts as well as biological accidents, and that treatment suggests that with whom we should share our lives with is more nuanced than just a question of birth. The conventions of social conformity and the blind spots of privilege are also interrogated in this story. The role of preconceptions in structuring our understanding of “truth” - especially relevant in these times - also plays a role. Finally, the almost Shakespearean treatment of envy as a motivator and destroyer of lives runs through the story like, well, an accelerant in a fire.

Evaluation: This is an absorbing story with so many layers and questions that it would be an outstanding choice for bookclubs.
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LibraryThing member jody12
Family dynamics, community perceptions, social justice, racial integration … all popular themes in today’s best selling novels. Little wonder authors are cramming many of these topics into their stories. It seems to have become a winning formula. But can you overload a book with too many
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issues, having them all competing and ending up with no winner?
This seems to be the general consensus from our group with Ng’s latest novel. There really was so much going on here … but in the end, goes nowhere. A classic story of two families from polar opposite ends of society fall in together with the likely hood of, if not riveting at least interesting, outcomes becomes embroiled in a conglomeration of issues and back stories that would put any long running soap opera to shame!
That is not to say the book was not enjoyed by our group. We had a few that loved the working of relationships, particularly mothers and daughters, and also the photography/art aspects of Mia, and there were those who found some empathy with Izzie and Moody. But overall it was stated that the characters lacked the depth to create an emotional involvement and the many teenagers and their day to day argy-bargy with adults and each other was just a little too much to take.
To drive the story on a simpler and more direct path, say, concentrating on just surrogacy or inter-racial adoption, or even on teen parenting, the book may have had a clearer and more thorough direction.
In reality, to cover too many topics in the one novel, does that not rob the author of material for yet another? Just a thought …
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
An excellent story about secrets and their flammability. Two families in a nice suburban community are shaken to their core when a free spirited artist arrives with her daughter. None of the three families would be the same. The themes in the novel included the damage which secrecy and meddling can
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do, coming of age, integrity, and unconditional love! Very good!
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LibraryThing member pgchuis
Mia and her daughter Pearl move into the Richardsons' rental apartment and the interactions between the two families result in the Richardsons' own house being burnt down. (This is not a spoiler - that's how it opens and then the rest leads back up to it).

For the first third of the novel, I was
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mainly thinking how well it was written, but after that the plot started to drive me crazy and by the end I had had more than enough.

I think we were expected to see Mia as all wise and as a positive force for change/alternative and thoughtful living in the Richardson children's lives. However, her suggestion that Izzy should seek revenge on the racist bullying band teacher by playing a prank was odd and a missed opportunity for Izzy to learn to stand up for others in a mature and accountable way. In the event the teacher is humiliated, but only by means of a chain of unlikely coincidences.

I found it hard to place this novel in its time period - the mid-nineties? Everything was a bit nebulous and timeless. I was also occasionally bothered by repetition of things we had been told before and then I got caught up on detail issues:


Was surrogacy even legal at the time Mia was pregnant? How did Mia manage to give birth under a false name? How did Lexie manage to have an abortion under a false name - didn't she need insurance or any form of ID?

I struggled with Mia's character in general; she decides to help the Ryans for money, defends herself to her parents and then it is as if a switch is flicked - she changes what she is going to do 100% and runs off in her brother's car. No agonizing, no debate. Her encouragement of Bebe resulted in heartbreak all around. I felt very distanced from her as a character. Mrs Richardson was also a bit of an enigma - was she like Izzy, determined to stand up for what she believed or a heartless conniving snob? (I vote the latter). Mr Richardson didn't really exist as a character he was so thinly drawn.

The ending was boring (the photos for each family member) and sentimental.
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LibraryThing member kemilyh1988
That Mrs. Richardson is one nosy monster.
LibraryThing member zmagic69
I did not read the author’s first book which also got rave reviews, but from this book it is clear the author can write, and the author can tell a story.
The 4 problems I had with this are:
1. The author takes on too many subjects and crams them in, so some are never really resolved.
2. For some
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reason the author chose to have the story take place in the late 1990’s but infuses the period of time with beliefs, and social mores of 2017, it is also a little too preachy, regarding the author’s beliefs.
3. The characters are stereotypical to an extreme, and so you not immediately how they will react in every situation.
4. As I said the author can write but unfortunately there were too many times when the reader gets pages of description that just don’t matter or add to the story, while at other times when this reader wanted that level of depth it wasn’t there.
I think if the author had chosen to cover less material/situations the story would have been more complete. Instead it felt a little to much like a Liane Moriarty knockoff, or a chick-lit beach book.
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LibraryThing member LyndaInOregon
In the planned community of Shaker Heights, everything is perfect, tasteful, and serene. Not even the appearance of a free-spirited single mom and her artworks can make much of a ripple. But when one couple adopts an abandoned baby and the birth mother appears before the adoption is completed, all
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kinds of secrets and imperfections are revealed in the lives of three families.

Ng manages to stay out of soap-opera territory, mostly by her ability to look at family dynamics and to insist that her characters at least acknowledge (if not fully accept) the consequences of their actions.

The disputed-baby thread comes closest to cliche, as the bereft birth mother is painted as utterly blameless and totally incapable of navigating the world in which she finds herself, yet the reader is encouraged to root for her to regain custody.

For all that, 'Little Fires Everywhere' is an engaging read.
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LibraryThing member write-review
A Novel About Independence

Little Fires Everywhere may be one of the best novels you read this year, and certainly the best about women exercising control over their lives while rebelling against societal strictures. It also may be one of the best novels using place as a character, here as a
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contrast to the untidiness of human life.

Ng takes great care to provide readers with a strong and clear sense of place. The place is Shaker Heights, Ohio, a well-to-do suburb of Cleveland. Shaker Heights as a planned greenbelt town dates back to 1909. It was and is a highly organized community governed by strict rules regarding nearly every aspect of the standardization of neighborhoods and structures. According to her biography, her family moved to Shaker Heights when Celeste was ten, and she graduated from Shaker Heights High School before moving on to Harvard. If there was ever an example of a hometown serving an author well and being incorporated into a novel almost as a character, this is it. Shaker Heights represents an ideal, well ordered, structured, affluent, a manifestation of the American Dream. That real life rarely measures up to the dream and seems to fit into a place like Shaker only with much shoehorning comes through loud and clear, and might be taken as a subtext of the novel.

The time is the late Nineties (implied by characters’ music choices, TV shows, and the like, until Ng explicitly sets the date late in the novel). The novel opens at the end, with the Richardson’s house burned to naked brick and rafters, and with a Richardson daughter missing. The story unfolds in the past, when Mia Warren and her teen daughter Pearl rent an apartment in a two-flat owned by the Richardsons. The contrast between Elena Richardson and Mia Warren is about as stark as it can get. Mrs. Richardson is married to her college love, who is a lawyer; Mia is unmarried. Elena Richardson works for a small Shaker newspaper, an accommodation to establishing a family and living in Shaker Heights; Mia is an artist, employing photography and montage techniques. Elena grew up in Shaker Heights and wanted to live nowhere else; Mia is a nomad, pulling up stakes every few months. Elena has four children, Trip, Lexie, Izzy, and Moody; Mia has only Pearl. Elena and Izzy are in constant conflict, primarily because neither fully understands how much each means to the other; Mia and Pearl live generally harmoniously together.

Mia, while a well regarded artist who sells her creations through a gallery in New York, hardly gets by on her work. To supplement her income, she works variously as a waitress, cleaning woman, and the like. Elena, who prides herself on providing a helping hand to deserving people, and who sees value in Mia’s talent, takes her on to work part-time in her home. Meanwhile, in school, Mia becomes friends with Moody and ends up spending much of her time in the Richardson home. For the first time in her life, she finds a welcoming home in which she feels truly comfortable. That stands in contrast to Izzy, who finds no welcome or comfort in her home, but who does find it with Mia, when she volunteers as Mia’s assistant. Unlike Shaker, you see, the relations of people living in it become messy pretty quickly, especially when unexpected romantic attachments develop among the teens.

Even more, Mia Warren is a woman with a past, which Ng relates in some of the novel’s strongest pages. Suffice to say that her past has a significant bearing another bit of central action in the novel. This involves the adoption by Elena’s close Shaker friends, the McCulloughs. They have tried for years to have children, finally turning to adoption. At it for years, they finally have the chance to adopt a child left at a local firehouse, and they grab it. It’s a Chinese baby they name Mirabelle. Then the baby’s mother, under the guidance of Mia, emerges to reclaim her child. A court battle ensues that raises elemental questions about motherhood. You will find yourself in the position of the judge, torn between both sides.

These then are the barest of the novel’s bones, but none of its humanity, and certainly not a drop of its wonderful nuance and tone. And the tone, here Ng possesses a special talent, indeed, for from the beginning it’s as if an old friend has put an arm around you and softly tells you a story about a town that looks perfect but which is filled with disturbing conflicts, with life altering decisions, with crushing sadness for some, but with new hope for others. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Disappointing. Set in Shaker Heights Ohio where everything is planned and perfect, this is the story of the Richardson family and their four children: Trey, Moody, Lexie, and Izzy. Also the story of their renters who rent a much smaller place near by: Mia and her daughter Pearl. The story open as
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the Richardson house is burning to the ground and supposedly Izzy is the arsonist.

There are several plot lines: teenage sex, abortion, surrogate babies, child custody battles, class distinctions. None of the characters seemed particularly believable; all were either good or bad or naive or scheming. Sort of a beach read attempting to deal with heavy topics.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Well, I know lots of people loved this. I thought I might. But I'm going to be contrarian and pick it apart.

1) Too many points of view, resulting in several characters who could have been sympathetic, but were just not developed enough for me to care.

2) A classic King Solomon-worthy child
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custody case with both claims clearly laid out, tempting the reader to take sides, but utterly failing to make me pick a Team. Naturally the judicial outcome could only please one party, and leave the other heartbroken; we were given a hint that the judge struggled with his ruling, but not one word about how he finally came to his decision.

3) A couple potentially likeable teenagers who did not, ultimately, fulfill that potential.

4) an ending that made me say "Really?? You treated your daughter like that because she was so freakin' precious to you???. Really?? Where was that even suggested before?"

I have another quibble, filed under "That's not how that works"--but I'll leave it. (Perhaps I skimmed over something.)

Book club fodder, issue-oriented stuff, maybe a little better than some things that fall into that category--I did want to follow the threads to the end, I admit. But the whole lacked subtlety and was less than satisfying.
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LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
Read/listened at 1.6x speed.
If you've watched the movie Losing Isaiah...that's one of the plots in this book. Yes, this one does more than just white privileged adopters vs minority trying to correct a mistake storyline, but I felt that it stopped from going too deep into looking at the themes that
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would have made it literary. It stays in the pop fiction realm. It's suitable for 16-20 years olds who are cutting their teeth on books with actual substance, but I was rather bored most of the time. Interesting slight of hand with the shifts in narrative POV, but there are too many POVs and too many characters, so they're not all given the time the characters need to really evolve. The kids are typical kids (I would have liked to see Moody get more narrative time); the privileged white mom drove me crazy with her self-righteousness; the artsy nomad mom is also rather cliche, as they all seem to be. Yes, the author gives them some depth, but doesn't take it far enough.
I can see why it's popular, but it's not enough for me.
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LibraryThing member deeEhmm
This book. It's well-considered and cleverly written. I know these people... I've walked among them, perhaps even onstage. It's frightfully, wonderfully creepy and familiar.

But today, I've gotten to a point where I'm so enraged at two characters that I don't think I can go on. Can't elaborate
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without spoilers, but basically one character has allowed another to construct an inescapably damning scenario that will end tragically. (And if it doesn't, I won't believe it.) Maybe my inability to go on is a weird testament to the book's successful portrayal of strangle-hold suburban propriety? I don't know--I'll leave that to other readers to decide. I'm glad I picked this book up, but need to put it down now.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
From the opening of this book, the reader knows the Richardson family’s house will burn to the ground, and the family has a shared suspicion as to who set the fire. But why? To understand that, we need to flash back to the arrival of Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, who rent a house from the
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Richardsons and somewhat unwittingly turn their neat, orderly life in Shaker Heights, Ohio upside-down.

Mia and Pearl have lived a nomadic life in support of Mia’s work creating artistic photographs. Their possessions are few; this is the first time Pearl has had her own bedroom. The Richardson’s son Moody is first to connect with Pearl, and the two become inseparable. Soon Pearl is spending her after-school time at the Richardson house, basking in their affluent surroundings and developing bonds with all four children.

When an abandoned baby is taken in by friends of the Richardsons, the community becomes divided over a custody battle. The Richardsons, Mia, and Warren are divided as well, and each person has reasons -- both public and private -- for their point of view. Elena Richardson, the meddling matriarch and landlady, begins to uncover Mia’s past and promptly adds two and two together to get five. And then we understand who started the fire, and why.

This novel was a real page-turner. The characters were very human, each likeable and unlikeable in equal measure. I found the storyline, with its complex interconnected threads, especially well done. Seemingly innocuous details would turn out to be crucial plot elements, eliciting a satisfying “aha!” every time. Days later, I’m still thinking about the characters and wondering, what happened after the fire?
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LibraryThing member CassandraT
This book takes about every dramatic plot line about motherhood, sums their events and removes most of the emotion. I felt no empathy, sympathy, or compassion. One character even comments on how cliche an event is for his character! I was barely interested in these peoples' lives. It felt like
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watching a soap opera. There was very little character driven content. At one point, a character writes an essay about the princess and the frog from the perspective of the frog. I was much more interested in that idea than the rest of this novel.

I think maybe the book had too many characters and events. There are probably a few interesting book ideas here. Things somewhat tied together at the end, but not enough to warrant the many threads.
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LibraryThing member kimkimkim
Elena Richardson defines all that is white Shaker suburbia. She is a journalist reporting for a small-time, local newspaper and considers herself an involved parent. She is the mother of four children:

Lexie is one of the pretty girls who rule the social scene until the scene owns her and in her
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thoughtless pretty girl way she sacrifices someone else without blinking;

Trip is that good looking jock who never settles on any one girl until Pearl Warren enters his life;

Moody is quiet, thoughtful, and kind until he is hurt so badly that he can’t help lashing out and destruction is the result;

Izzy with a true moral compass is the child her mother is afraid she will lose and yet Mrs. Richardson does everything to assure that is the end result.

On the other side of the story is Mia is the artistically gifted photographer who never sticks in any one place too long. She travels light in her old VW Rabbit with few personal possessions, her daughter Pearl, and the secrets of her youth.

Pearl is everyone’s foil in the story. She is bewitched by the Richardson’s, loves her mother unconditionally and is about to grow up quickly.

“What happens when a kid learns to lie - when they hold the knowledge inside like a splinter, being careful not to touch it”?

This book carefully lay out what happens when petty minded people rely on unverified information to destroy other people’s lives. Once again Ms. Ng has written a compelling story with characters that are highly identifiable. Once again, I admired her writing (4 stars) and disliked the story (3 stars).
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LibraryThing member linda.a.
This is a story about families, and what a “good” family should look like. It looks at the bonds of motherhood, with questions raised about what makes a mother, biology or love; the power of money and of privilege, as well as the abuse of these assets; it is about the smug complacency of an
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affluent community and how such a community reacts when confronted by the intrusion of a less ordered world. Are there right and wrong ways of doing things or just different ways? It poses questions about whether inter-racial adoptions are ever a good thing. Is it better for a child to be brought up by a single parent of the same race in order to ensure that that child grows up fully aware of its racial and cultural heritage, even if this means growing up in poverty? Or is it better for a child to be raised by two financially secure parents, capable of surrounding the child with love, but never able to fully identify with a different culture? Will the child then grow up feeling isolated from its roots?
Throughout the book the author challenges the reader to explore many differing points of view and, although initially it appears that many of her characters are stereotypical, as the story progresses each of them becomes much more nuanced, especially Elena as she is gradually forced to examine so many of her apparently ingrained beliefs about how she, and others, should behave. I think that Ng’s depictions of the conflicts faced by adolescents, as well as the power of their relationships, was excellent – I found myself alternating between feeling sympathetic towards and irritated by their behaviour!
This story starts with a real fire but the back-story explores all the metaphorical “little fires” which led up to the major conflagration, demonstrating that fire, like passion, can be a dangerous and destructive thing! I think that Celeste Ng managed to integrate all these strands in an entertaining and reasonably credible way. However, there were moments when I felt that the issues surrounding the custody battle detracted from her development of her characters, they seemed to become mere “vehicles” for the conflicting arguments. I thought this was a shame because she is clearly someone who is able to capture the essence of people’s characters, behaviour and motivations and the dynamics of developing relationships. However, overall I did enjoy this thought-provoking story and think that the issues it raises would make it a good choice for reading groups.
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LibraryThing member shazjhb
An amazing book so complicated and wonderfully rich.
LibraryThing member jmchshannon
Little Fires Everywhere is a beautiful story of motherhood as well as one of identity. In addition, it touches on the power of the status quo and the complacency that comes with middle class. It is a powerful story, and one that has resonance for today’s political and socioeconomic turbulence.
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Through Mia and Elena, Ms. Ng brings both sides together to show that seldom are things as simple as they seem.

Little Fires Everywhere is one of those novels that forces you to take a long, hard look at yourself and your background, for people from different backgrounds will have decidedly different reactions to the story. I personally found myself squirming a bit at Elena’s portrayal with her upper-middle class lifestyle and views of the world. While my community is not as well-organized and planned as Shaker Heights, there are too many familiar attributes between Elena’s life and mine for comfort. While there are no villain and no hero in this story, my reactions to Elena’s actions and thoughts were mostly one of repugnance. Yet, our similarities make me wonder if I would/have/will react similarly in such a situation as she finds herself. Other readers may see themselves in Mia or in one of the other female characters who have a prominent feature in the story, and their reading experience will greatly differ. The beauty of the story is that there are multiple points of view and multiple lessons to learn, all of which depend on our individual backgrounds, experiences, leanings, etc. to determine.

The story itself is dramatic but relatively action-less. It is a thinking person’s story, driven by the characters rather than a specific plot. In that way, the characters take on a life of their own, drawing you into their personal dramas and making you a part of the story. For, it is utterly impossible to stay a remote observer of the story. There are one too many polarizing topics at play throughout the novel, and the strong emotional connections you feel towards at least one of the characters guarantees that your response will be anything but calm.

At the same time, Ms. Ng never allows readers to lose sight of the big picture. While it would be so easy to remain in Pearl’s corner or in Elena’s, she captures the complexity of life so well that you recognize (albeit somewhat reluctantly) that your reactions are one-sided and therefore shortsighted. She forces you to acknowledge that there are seldom easy answers when it comes to parenting, to the ideas of motherhood, to life.

At a time in our country where it seems that everyone is pitted against everyone else, Ms. Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere is a reminder of how things could end up if we don’t stop and consider the other side’s viewpoint once in a while. Her story emphasizes how unwilling most of humanity is to empathize with one another, and yet only when we do can we ever hope to find common ground. Mia and Elena are great examples of the dangers of self-righteousness at someone else’s expense. In this quiet, exquisitely written novel, there are no winners in this dangerous game of right and wrong, which makes its lessons not only timely but essential to overcoming our growing national divide.
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LibraryThing member gpangel
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is a 2017 Penguin Press publication.

A smart, but often scathing look at entitlement coupled with the endless dynamic layers between mother and child.

The Clinton era gets a sharp examination as we drop in on Shaker Heights, an ideal suburban community with
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plenty of unspoken rules for its financially comfortable residents. The Richardson family is the prototype of the community, with Elena Richardson embracing the lifestyle with unparalleled enthusiasm.

‘Perfection: that was the goal, and perhaps the Shakers had lived it so strongly it had seeped into the soil itself, feeding those who grew up there with a propensity to overachieve and a deep intolerance for flaws.’

By contrast, Mrs. Richardson’s new tenants, Mia and her daughter, Pearl, live a free spirited, nomadic life. Mia is a photographer, who works just enough to afford the basics in life. Pearl, though, has no trouble adapting to the stable home life of the Richardson’s, practically becoming a member of the family.

Things are working out well enough, until a chain of events unlocks long buried secrets, spawning a bitter custody battle, which exposes cracks in the Richardson’s perfect image, and will culminate in a fiery inferno, both physically and metaphorically.

This second novel by Celeste Ng is not quite as grim or heavy as her debut, but it is every bit as provocative.

I have had a hard time writing this review because the layers in this story are many, with so many themes to explore. I have worked on it for days, feeling slightly intimidated, unable to find the words that would do justice to such an outstanding novel.


This book adeptly explores hot button issues prevalent twenty years ago, between episodes of Jerry Springer and Clinton’s sex scandals, when a different set of questions were raised, such as interracial adoptions.

“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”

I was impressed with the various contrasts presented in the book, which included the mindset of the privileged juxtaposed against those who find themselves at their mercy. Was there an exacting price for that privilege and was it worth it? I must say, the judgmental hypocrisy is astounding!!

But, the heartbeat of the story is centered around motherhood. Every mother represented exposed that instant vulnerability motherhood creates. The pain of infertility and the frustrating process of adoption is examined right along with parental sacrifices and foibles and their consequences.

Mia and Mrs. Richardson's children also play an integral part in the story, their roles intertwined and connected in the most ironic of ways.

‘Izzy had the heart of a radical, but she had the experience of a fourteen-year-old in the suburban Midwest.’

One of the more interesting character studies is of Elena- mostly referred to as Mrs. Richardson, which I thought was a very clever way of hammering home a specific point. Her cluelessness, her arrogance, and relentless reproach is extraordinary in light of what is actually taking place.

Mia, in turn, may spark a little resentfulness in Mrs. Richardson, and despite my initial puzzlement about her, and I admit I certainly questioned some of her choices, I ended up respecting her a great deal.

So, as you can see, the novel is very driven by the characters, each offering a different perspective or new avenue in which to view the situation. Sometimes I felt deep empathy for one character, feeling the acuteness of their pain, but unable to choose a side. It is often heart wrenching and I found myself feeling torn on many occasions.

On other occasions, I had a very hard time mustering up any real empathy for a few of these characters.

The plotting was very tightly woven and on several occasions, I may have uttered an expletive out loud when misunderstandings exploded in the worst possible way, creating a mountain of tension in the process.

This is a very compelling family drama, drawing out a bit of nostalgia, prompting me to take a closer look in the mirror, to put myself in the place of others before passing judgement.

But, I also picked up on a bit of sarcasm here and there, almost as if the author was scoffing at some of the attitudes or the mindset of the era, although it was done so in an understated and sly way.

It’s been nearly a week since I finished the book and I still find myself mulling over the many layers and angles, and thinking about the characters and the choices they made and how it all came together in the end.

So, it is fair to say, this book has had an impact on me, and think it is a novel anyone who appreciates a well written, thought provoking work of fiction will appreciate. Highly recommend!!

5 stars
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LibraryThing member angiestahl
I thought this was masterful and loved every word of it.

The female characters are better dimensionalized than the males (who are supporting characters at best). None are perfect, and none are wholly bad, all are written and captured with empathy, heart, and grace. Some I found myself relating to
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better than others, but all felt real, authentic, and very human.

Highly, highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Hccpsk
Celeste Ng’s new novel Little Fires Everywhere unravels the complex details behind the fires that actually begin the story. It takes place in tony Shaker Heights, Ohio, and focuses on the wealthy Richardson family and their four teenage children. We meet a multitude of characters from many
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backgrounds, but Ng’s easy yet precise writing keeps it all straight and moving towards the previously known conclusion. This is a multifaceted book about class, culture, motherhood, and family, but the teenage characters and their issues make a good choice for YA readers. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member PeskyLibrary
Celeste Ng’s new novel Little Fires Everywhere unravels the complex details behind the fires that actually begin the story. It takes place in tony Shaker Heights, Ohio, and focuses on the wealthy Richardson family and their four teenage children. We meet a multitude of characters from many
Show More
backgrounds, but Ng’s easy yet precise writing keeps it all straight and moving towards the previously known conclusion. This is a multifaceted book about class, culture, motherhood, and family, but the teenage characters and their issues make a good choice for YA readers. Highly recommended. PK
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LibraryThing member bostonterrio
Liked the story more than I expected to. It is a slow moving story and I generally prefer something a little more quick. Still Celeste Ng has a way of making each character so real and that keeps me involved in a storyline.
LibraryThing member JenniferRobb
I saw this book mentioned in several different magazines and was intrigued because it is set in Shaker Hts., OH which is near where I grew up. It was interesting to read about places I could somewhat picture.

The book is a bit more literary in feel than what I usually read, but the story is
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compelling. The book intertwines stories about the Richardson Family (mom, dad, and 4 kids) who live in a nice house, and have everything that money can buy; The McCulloughs, where the wife is a long-time friend of Mrs. Richardson, who are planning to adopt a child and get caught up in a custody battle when the biological mother comes forward; and The Warrens (Mia and her daughter Pearl) who have lived a nomadic life before coming to Shaker Hts.

All kinds of relational dynamics occur in this book. Parents and children--including contrasting the parenting styles of Mrs. Richardson and Mia Warren as well as that of Bibi Chow and Mrs. McCullogh. Siblings among the Richardson children. Teens as Pearl Warren is befriended by Moody Richardson and then becomes friends (and sometimes more) with two other Richardson children.

Pearl Warren and Izzy Richardson--I can't decide which of the two the novel centers on more. The book starts and ends with Izzy but the central portion is mostly about Pearl and how she interacts with the others. Maybe that is the point--that we are all products of our interactions with others.
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LibraryThing member MinDea
I absolutely loved this book. If it weren't for the fact I was reading this with Litsy for #botmBuddyRead and had to come up with the questions I totally would have finished this book sooner. It spoke to me on so many different levels. It discusses so many deep topics about family, being a parent,
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being a child, mistakes and second chances, forgiveness and moving forward. So good!!!
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

368 p.; 7.7 inches


0735224315 / 9780735224315
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