Wednesday, October 4, 2017

#BookReview: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

Summary: In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously 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 principal 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 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.

"The firemen said there were little fires everywhere," Lexie said. "Multiple points of origin. Possible use of accelerant. Not an accident."

Little Fires Everywhere is very much a Pretty in Pink meets Sixteen Candles meets The Breakfast Club. That is to say initially it seems like a John Hughes '80s infused light-hearted story line. The Richardsons are a picture perfect family - two parents with four children: Trip the golden boy, Lexie the most popular girl in school, Moody with a name that befits him, and awkward youngest sister Izzy. And as in any John Hughes movie, their perfect lives are turned upside down when people that don't quite fit into their carefully crafted world crash into it.

Mia Warren is a rebel, a free thinker. And she's raised her daughter Pearl to be the same way, but secretly, Pearl craves the normalcy of a family like the Richardsons. As Pearl ingratiates herself with the Richardson clan, she finds a best friend in Moody, an older sister in Lexie and a crush on Trip.

While Pearl is spending her time swooning over the Richardsons, Izzy is soaking up Mia's presence in her life. When Mia is caught up in helping Bebe Chow, a Chinese immigrant who gives birth to and abandons her baby at a fire station, only to try to reclaim her later, Izzy is a witness to the battle between Mia, her mother and the McCulloughs, the white family that plans to adopt and raise Bebe's baby as their own.

And let's talk about Elena Richardson, because if anyone is threatened by Mia's presence, it's her. It's not enough that she's given Mia and Pearl a place to stay, treated Pearl as her own child and given Mia a job. Mia's decision to side with Bebe instead of Elena and the McCulloughs is an affront to Elena and whiteness. It's unfathomable to Elena that Bebe could care for her own child and she begins digging into Mia's past in hopes of finding what? A way to push the Warrens out of her life? A way to embarrass Mia? Or is Elena simply a mean girl that doesn't know when to quit?

Battle lines are drawn, though the rest of the Richardson children are somewhat indifferent. But words mean things and if Izzy later sets little fires everywhere, Mia is the accelerant. She is the one adult that listens to Izzy and takes her seriously. So it's no wonder that when she finds her world crashing down with the threat of losing Mia, Izzy recalls her words.

Like after a prairie fire… It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow… People are like that too, you know. They start over. They find a way.

Was Mia telling Izzy to burn everything down and start over? Was she referencing the new starts that she and Pearl made each time they packed up and moved on to a new city? I'd say that's up to each reader's interpretation.

352 p.
Published: September 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

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