Thursday, September 7, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Penguin Random House: 9/12/17
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735224292

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is an incredible, very highly recommended novel about families, rule following, motherhood, and privilege. This novel is not to be missed.

It is 1997 in Shaker Heights, Ohio, one of the original planned communities with rules for everything. Elena Richardson, the third generation to live in Shaker Heights, firmly believes in the perfection of her family, community and following rules, both communal and societal, and is proud she and her husband Bill chose to live and raise their family there. The novel opens with Elena in her bathrobe on the front lawn watching their home burn. Izzy Richardson, Elena's youngest, has set "little fires everywhere" to burn down the family home. The night before this Elena watched her renters, Mia and daughter Pearl, return the rental key in the Richardson's mailbox.

After the opening, Little Fires Everywhere jumps back in time, to when Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl are moving into the duplex Elena inherited from her parents. Elena prides herself on picking renters she believes deserve her largess in the form of reduced rent and a chance for the chosen renters to live in Shaker Heights. Mia, a single mother, is an artist with a fifteen year old daughter, Pearl. The pair has lived an itinerant lifestyle for years, but now Mia has promised Pearl they will stay in Shaker Heights more than a few months.

Soon Pearl becomes friends with the Richardson children, Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy.  When Izzy meets Mia, she finally finds a compassionate adult who appreciates and supports her individuality, which stands in stark contrast to the constant correction, control, and belittling her mother heaps upon her. Elena, suspicious of Mia's rule-breaking lifestyle, sets her sights on Mia,  and attempts to assert some control over her by basically forcing her into becoming the Richardson's housekeeper in exchange for rent. She is also determined to investigate Mia's background.

When friends of Elena are planning to adopt an abandoned Chinese American baby the birth mother wants the baby back and a custody battle ensues. Once Elena realizes that she and Mia are on opposite sides of the controversy, she doubles her efforts to investigate Mia. But, as hard as Elena tries to control everything, life is unpredictable and can't always be controlled by following set rules. Elena's obsession and incomplete information resulted in unforeseen and unexpected consequences.

Little Fires Everywhere is an exceptional, impressive novel and sure to capture some awards/acclaim this year. I was riveted to every page and found it impossible to put down once I started it.  Little Fires Everywhere explores families, motherhood, class, lies, secrets, privacy, sacrifices, and how always following the rules isn't always the best choice. The quality of the writing is outstanding, sensitive, and complex. Ng captures a distinct sense of location and time in the narrative. Her characters are all unique and extraordinarily well developed as individuals. The different perspectives of her characters emerge and work together to create a multifaceted story.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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