Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours 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 teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.
Shaker Heights is filled with the same kind of families – perfect, well-rounded people with stable jobs and beautiful homes. Enter the exception to the rule, Mia and Pearl Warren. Mia is the artist with an open-mind and limited funds and Pearl, her daughter, open-minded but longing for a stable life. They come to settled, regimented Shaker Heights and the place slowly unravels.
This novel is beautifully constructed plot-wise and is an easy read. The family dynamics are often one-dimensional, and sometimes a couple of the characters are predictable. However, I did appreciate the ever-changing shift in situations causing ructions between relationships to keep the drama alive.
The final scene – no spoilers here – felt quite outlandish. It is very unlikely that anyone would take someone’s words that literally. Truthfully, for a book with such rave reviews for being ‘gripping’, it didn’t feel as such to me. It took a while for me to connect with the characters, even though I do appreciate each one having their own backstory. I always find it frustrating when characters are introduced but then just left to fester. Backstories are so important so this book did perfectly at giving each character one.
Little Fires Everywhere, is an exploration of motherhood and the bonds forged between parent and child. It also delves into conflicts that can be caused when lies and miscommunication are part of daily life. The web of lies untangle to reveal bigger, scarier truths that could force some people of Shaker Heights.
For the criticisms I gave this book, I would rate it 3/5. It didn’t capture my imagination quite as I hoped it would. There was a lot of potential for this to 5/5, but the pacing felt a little slow in places to me and some stories fell a bit flat. In saying this, I would recommend the book and will likely read Ng’s other works.
This novel is set to be adapted into a mini-series on Hulu. Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington are teaming up to act on and produce the series. Tracey Underwood, of ABC signature studios’ will be the executive producer alongside Hello Sunshine [Reese Witherspoon’s company] and Simpson Street [Kerry Washington’s production team]. In a nice twist, Ng will also be a producer for the series.