Little Fires Everywhere
Book Club Selection for March Coronavirus Extra 2020- Little Fires Everywhere
by Celeste Ng
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.
"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: how do questions of race stack up against the comfort of privilege, and what role does that play in parenting? Is motherhood a bond forged by blood, or by love? And perhaps most importantly: do the faults of our past determine what we deserve in the future? Be ready to be wowed by Ng's writing -- and unsettled by the mirror held up to one's own beliefs." - Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and Leaving Time
“Witty, wise, and tender. It's a marvel.” -Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water
“Witnessing these two families as they commingle and clash is an utterly engrossing, often heartbreaking, deeply empathetic experience…It’s this vast and complex network of moral affiliations—and the nuanced omniscient voice that Ng employs to navigate it—that make this novel even more ambitious and accomplished than her debut…Our trusty narrator is as powerful and persuasive and delightfully clever as the narrator in a Victorian novel…It is a thrillingly democratic use of omniscience, and, for a novel about class, race, family and the dangers of the status quo, brilliantly apt…The magic of this novel lies in its power to implicate all of its characters—and likely many of its readers—in that innocent delusion [of a post-racial America]. Who set the littles fires everywhere? We keep reading to find out, even as we suspect that it could be us with ash on our hands.” —Eleanor Henderson, The New York Times Book Review
“[Ng] captures her setting with an ethnologist’s authority…And there are time-capsule pleasures in her evocation of 1997…The writing is poised.” —Wall Street Journal
“Delectable and engrossing…A complex and compulsively readable suburban saga that is deeply invested in mothers and daughters…What Ng has written, in this thoroughly entertaining novel, is a pointed and persuasive social critique, teasing out the myriad forms of privilege and predation that stand between so many people and their achievement of the American dream. But there is a heartening optimism, too. This is a book that believes in the transformative powers of art and genuine kindness — and in the promise of new growth, even after devastation, even after everything has turned to ash.” —Boston Globe
“[Ng] widens her aperture to include a deeper, more diverse cast of characters. Though the book’s language is clean and straightforward, almost conversational, Ng has an acute sense of how real people (especially teenagers, the slang-slinging kryptonite of many an aspiring novelist) think and feel and communicate. Shaker Heights may be a place where “things were peaceful, and riots and bombs and earthquakes were quiet thumps, muffled by distance.’ But the real world is never as far away as it seems, of course. And if the scrim can’t be broken, sometimes you have to burn it down. Grade: A-” —Entertainment Weekly
“Stellar…The plot is tightly structured, full of echoes and convergence, the characters bound together by a growing number of thick, overlapping threads….Ng is a confident, talented writer, and it’s a pleasure to inhabit the lives of her characters and experience the rhythms of Shaker Heights through her clean, observant prose. Before she became an author she was a miniaturist — almost too perfect for a writer of suburban fiction — and there’s a lovely, balanced, dioramic quality to this novel. She toggles between multiple points of view, creating a narrative both broad in scope and fine in detail, all while keeping the story moving at a thriller’s pace.”—LA Times
“Riveting…unearthing the ways that race, class, motherhood and belonging intersect to shape each individual…Perhaps Ng's most impressive feat is inviting the reader's forgiveness for Mrs. Richardson –– a woman whose own mission for perfection, and strict adherence to rules ultimately become the catalyst for the maelstrom that ensues.”—Chicago Tribune
“Like Sue Monk Kidd or Madeleine Thien, Celeste Ng has a carpenter’s sure touch in constructing nested, interconnected plots…There are few novelists writing today who are as wise, compassionate and unsparing as Ng, about the choices you make, the ones you don’t, and the price you might pay for missed lives.” —Financial Times
"When you're in the mood for family drama that's not your own, Little Fires Everywhere by CelesteNg will have you hooked." -The Skimm
“Sharp and entertaining—you can’t look away even when things are crashing and burning (literally)—and it possibly ranks up there with all-time great suburbia fiction, like Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides.” — Goop
“Opposites attract and also ignite in this thoughtful novel.” —People
"Ng writes with the wisdom of a hundred lives lived.” — Harpers Bazaar
“A riveting read and one of our favorite new works of fiction this fall.” —Refinery29
“[Ng] probes privilege and the compromises it requires in a riveting novel.” –O, The Oprah Magazine
“A meditation on rules, race, class, insiders, outsiders, motherhood. There is no throwaway character. And after you've raced to the end of the book, you'll want to read it again, to take the ideas and hold them up to the harsh light of 2017. Ng's novel would be a great read in any time period—but if you’re struggling with the present moment and how we got here, this novel will do what any good piece of fiction does: illuminate.” —Barrie Hardymon, NPR’s Best Books of 2017
“Like Everything I Never Told You, Ng’s excellent debut, the book plots its way into a smart, accessible conversation about race and class. But free of the restraints of Everything’s thriller construction, Little Fires gives Ng the space and patience to confront how progressive-minded communities approach identity.” –GQ.com
“[A] suspenseful, tense tale.” —W Magazine
“[Ng’s] descriptions are so dead-on you can practically see the Cleveland skyline as you ride shotgun with these characters.” —Glamour
“A meditation on the unspoken pains and contradictions of motherhood. Its story unspools all the raw, knotted tensions that go into making a family…Choosing a rambling van over a 401(k) isn't a sign of delinquent parenting in Ng's universe; it's just one of a series of possible paths, with its own unique pleasures and pitfalls.” –Refinery29
“Unmissable…Ng’s psychological insight is acute, yet generous,…Little Fires Everywhere examines the cruelties that we unwittingly inflict on those we claim to love.” ―Claire Fallon, HuffPost’s Best Fiction Books of 2017
“Takes unerring aim at upper-middle-class America’s blind spots…a nuanced study of mothers and daughters and the burden of not belonging to our families or our communities.” — Vogue
“Totally absorbing, each character drawn so well it makes it impossible to decide whose side you’re on.” — Marie Claire
About the Author:
Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio.
She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of
Michigan. Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, won the Hopwood Award, the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature and the ALA's Alex Award and is a 2016 NEA fellow. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
CG Book Club Review:
Little Fires Everywhere- Review
This is a good book. After you are done reading it, you will find yourself reflecting over the different women in this book and you will discover that they are layered in such a way that you may grow to appreciate each more over time.
A mother, Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl arrive in the affluent planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio. They are nomads trying to find a place to finally settle. Pearl becomes friends with Moody Richardson. The Richardson family, both the parents and their four children, form much of the focus of the book. The family readily accepts Pearl in their circle of friends. Overtime, the two families become intertwined in many different ways.
The book also includes a storyline about a transracial adoption of a Chinese American baby by another white family in the area, the McCulloughs. Several reviews highlight that the novel follows the complex social, class, and legal relationships between all of these individuals as the reader realizes how much they judge one another. But this does not do the book justice. In some ways, the book explores the relationship between a mother and a daughter and one impression you should be looking for is that no matter how different socially a mother may be, in many ways they are still the same.
We get to know many pairs of mothers and daughters: Mia and Pearl, Ms. Richardson and her two daughters Lexie and Izzy, Linda McCullough and her new baby in the middle of adoption proceedings, and the birth mother Bebe seeking reconciliation with her baby May Ling. The story of Mirabelle or May Ling in some ways demonstrates all the different feelings that each of the mothers are feeling at different points in the book. The reader may ultimately wonder if each of the mothers experienced all of these same different feelings seeming to make a full circle of a feeling of a mother’s loss at the end.
These stories weave together to allow us to recognize the complexities of such connections.
The opening pages report the recent calamities in the town while the Richardson’s home burns down. The majority of the book is then a reflection back of the last few months that bring us to the reasons behind the fire. The book addresses class in some creative ways. The Richardson are all about class and position, but in other ways outwardly reject class. In the reflection, it isn’t just the place that we get to know but also its residents with their desires and their flaws. For instance, Mrs. Richardson thinks of herself as performing charity by renting out apartments in a duplex below market value to those like Mia and Pearl, who she marks as “deserving.” In addition to judging the worth of those with less economic support, she demands a certain submissiveness for this “favor.” The power dynamic subtly grows outside Elena’s full awareness but most certainly not outside of Mia’s, who knows when Elena offers her a job to clean the Richardson house “that when people were bent on doing something they believed was a good deed, it was usually impossible to dissuade them.” We also see issues of class at play for the younger generation as Pearl has to redirect a shopping excursion with the overly indulged Lexie Richardson to a thrift shop so that she can afford the clothing. In this instance, Lexie doesn’t negatively judge the place—or Pearl—as cheap but instead as a quest for vintage items, but she remains oblivious, like her mother, to the class-based undercurrent in their adventure. What Ng’s novel exposes here are not just the class issues but how those issues are received very differently depending on the perspective, whether it be noblesse oblige, tolerance, economic necessity, or an adolescent desire to be cool.
But the focus on so many different perspectives of the book are the relationships between mother and daughter. The relationship between Mia and her daughter Pearl attempting to settle into a town after living a nomad life style and the affects of outside relationships on them. The relationship between a birth mother and adoptive mother fighting over a little baby. The relationship between Ms. Rickardson and her youngest child which seems to be treated differently than her siblings and the unexpectant reasons why. Then there are the extended relationships between the Richardson daughters and their growing pseudo “mother-daughter” relationships with Mia.
The book is also about choices and what decisions would each of the mothers make regarding their daughters. The story has so many layers, but at the end you may discovery that every Mother has had strong similarities no mater what the social economic status.
Ken W. Good