Book Review

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

  • Author: Celeste Ng
  • Genre: Contemporary
  • Publication Date: September 12, 2017
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio

CONTENT WARNING: miscarriage, infertility, abortion, kidnapping

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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.

While this book was a little slow to start, it definitely picked up speed and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this deep dive into family dynamics, secrets, the cost of choices we make, and the exploration of relationships.

I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator (Jennifer Lim) did a great job. She managed to easily switch between the various perspectives, which changed frequently. Sometimes the shift would happen within chapters, which I normally don’t enjoy, but the narrator made it simple to follow what was happening.

I’m always intrigued by stories that take place in towns that seem too perfect, because there’s always secrets hiding. In this book, it felt like all the characters had their own secrets, and as I continued to listen, those secrets were revealed slowly, drawing me further in. 

Elena Richardson is the mother who plays by the rules, and expects everyone around her to do so as well. When someone doesn’t, see takes it personally. She wasn’t a character that I really liked from the start, but over the course of the book, I disliked her more and more. By the end, I couldn’t stand her. She was an anti-hero dressed up as a hero, who actually thought of herself as a hero. 

Mia Warren is one of those people who doesn’t play by Elena’s rules. She’s a single mother who lives a nomadic lifestyle, and works as an artist. But in being her genuine self, she manages to offend Elena — she has no desire to want what Elena has, which is what Elena seems to believe should be what everyone wants. The central conflict of the novel places them on opposite sides and leads to Elena making it her mission to uncover Mia’s secrets.

The way that the characters all interact and develop these relationships felt so organic. Everything unfolded slowly at first, and then picked up speed, until it felt like it was speeding towards a collision. However, just like knowing that something awful is going to happen, I wasn’t able to look away. I couldn’t stop listening, just to find out what was going to happen. I loved learning about all the secrets that everyone was holding back, and I was blindsided by a lot of the plot twists. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear the title repeated right away in the book — I’ve never seen it come up so early, although there was also a  deeper meaning that came out later.

I do have to admit that I binge watched the series right after finishing the story, and while there were some changes, both were incredible. This is definitely going to be one that I recommend to everyone I know, although if you’re sensitive to books that discuss fertility issues, this probably isn’t the one for you. I’m looking forward to reading more of Celeste Ng’s work.

7 replies »

  1. I loved the book and I enjoyed the mini-series, but I have issues with one of the big changes from the ending. And, it involves Izzy’s older siblings. Short version, the portrayal of the siblings in the book, to me, is more accurate than in the adaptation. I know people want to believe children will become better adults, but that’s not always the case. People need to stop assuming that such things will happen. Many children grow up to become as selfish and as privileged as the adults in their lives.


  2. This has been on my radar for ages, and with the show being out, I’ve been wanting to read it. It sounds really intriguing. I also really love stories set in what appears to be a perfect town too – there’s always something unexpected going on that makes them a gripping read. Great review!


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