Book Review | Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was the perfect remedy for a recent reading slump.

I was immediately drawn into the regimented suburban community of Shaker Heights, Ohio in the 1990’s. Shaker Heights is reminiscent of Stepford with its manicured lawns and strict rules on everything, from the colours you’re allowed to paint your front door to having to conceal rubbish at the back of your house. Everything must be faultless in Shaker Heights, but with a superficial emphasis on outward appearances over anything else.

We are told at the beginning that the Richardson family home has been burnt to the ground, most likely intentionally by the youngest daughter Izzy. The black sheep, she rebels against everything her family stand for. Her mother, Elena, is the epitome of the town’s ethos, always striving for perfection and projecting these principals on Izzy and her three siblings Lexie, Trip and Moddy. Mrs Richardson’s penchant for properness is reflected in the way that she is mostly referred to with an air of formality using her martial title.

From there the narrative goes back in time to when a nomadic, free-spirited artist, Mia Warren, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, first moved into Elena’s rental property. Pearl soon becomes intertwined in the Richardson’s family life when she makes friends with Moody and Mia is encouraged by Elena to start working for them as a cleaner and cook.

Mia and Elena are polar opposites and their core beliefs come to the surface when they end up on opposing sides of a court case that stirs up the community. Cracks appear between the two families and amongst the Richardsons as a custody battle ensues between their friends, Mr and Mrs McCullough, who are in the middle of adopting a Chinese baby whose birth mother, Bebe, is a friend of Mia’s.

The case conjures the question of what it means to be a mother. Flashing back to Elena and Mia’s pasts, we learn that both mothers have made life-changing mistakes in their lives, but the one thing they have in common and that remains constant, is their love for their children. Their beliefs and backgrounds are black and white, privileged vs. poor, discipline vs. freedom, but their actions remain in a grey area. At its heart, Little Fires Everywhere is about making choices and dealing with the consequences but Celeste Ng never expresses an opinion on what is right or wrong, or sway us to take sides, encouraging us to think for ourselves instead.

A character-driven, domestic novel, each individual is rife with flaws and has plenty of skeletons in their closet. I found myself investing in everyone equally as result of being presented with their strengths and weaknesses. I was swept up in the family dynamic of the Richardsons and Warrens from the outset, intrigued to uncover their individual stories and observe how they would interact with each other.

Little Fires Everywhere is beautifully crafted and a compulsive read based on raw emotions, guaranteed to kindle a few thoughts that might spark something more ferocious.

“Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you.”