After being very impressed by Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You, I had high expectations of Little Fires Everywhere. It didn’t disappoint. Expertly crafted, the story examines the complex relationships between siblings and parents. It asks what motherhood is and also engages with race, privilege and art.
The adoption of a Chinese baby by a white family is the issue which divides the community of Shaker Heights in Ohio and ultimately sets off a chain reaction of events. However, this does not occur until a third of the way through the story. The main focus is the wealthy, wholesome Richardson family and their tenants, unconventional artist Mia and her daughter Pearl. Much of the story is actually a flashback, as it begins with the Richardsons’ house on fire and then the narrative explores what happened leading up to this. I thought it was a really fascinatingly told story with well-drawn characters, most of whom are teenagers.
The story is set in 1997-8. I’m not sure if there’s a reason for this, other than a little nostalgia (the author graduated high school that year). Maybe she wanted to write teenagers without having to include the smartphones which now dominate their lives. The setting of Shaker Heights, with its aura of suburban perfection, is actually real – the author grew up there.
Little Fires Everywhere is an excellent read and I look forward to whatever Ng writes next.
First published in 2017.