Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Having heard some good comments about this book and realizing it was a 2017 release, a New York Times bestseller, and is being adapted for Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington as an eight-episode TV miniseries for Hulu, I decided to pick up the hardback. Although Ng is a relatively young author (born in 1980), this is her second successful book. Her first, Everything I Never Told You, was a 2014 Amazon Best Book of the Year. The setting for both books is her childhood hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Little Fires Everywhere opens with an actual fire. The home of the Richardsons, an affluent suburban family, has gone up in smoke. Elena Richardson stood in her bathrobe outside on the lawn watching the firefighters roll up their hoses and wondered where her two sons and two daughters were. Who would cause such a fire – was it an arsonist? Three of the children eventually show up, and the only family member missing is Izzy, one of the Richardson’s teenage daughters. As the rest of the novel unfolds, the incidents that occurred over the last year are interspersed with glimpses of the backstories of the main characters to round out the narrative.
The story is set in the late 1990s, and Shaker Heights always was and still is a meticulously planned community proud of being organized and home to successful residents. Two families make up the cast of main characters, and the two very different moms move the story forward. Elena Richardson is a successful, driven, local journalist, wife, and mother to four teenage kids. The other mother, Mia Warren, recently came to town with her daughter, Pearl, and everything they owned in Mia’s VW and rented a small apartment from the Richardsons.
As the lives of the two families intertwine through the sons and daughters, we see various characters’ actions from other characters’ viewpoints, which should make the TV series on Hulu really interesting. Part way through the novel, a secondary story and characters come into play involving a Chinese restaurant worker, the adoption of a Chinese baby by an American, Caucasian couple, and the emotional, ethnic and cultural issues involved in the investigation of that transaction.
Ng’s writing is good, and the story moves along quickly. She makes us think about the unintended consequences of the decisions both her characters (and by extension, we the readers) make in misjudging others, particularly our own children. Both secrets and honesty can be helpful or damaging. Ng somehow lifts the veil on the underpinnings of family life and shows us some of what goes on underneath.
Most of the members of my book group liked this book, Goodreads gives it 4+ stars, and I concur. I liked it well enough to consider taking a look at Ng’s first novel as well.