Book review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: AmazonTBDGoodreads
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source: Borrowed

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.

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over. After the burning, the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way.” 

As much as I want to like this kind of slow-moving, character-driven literary fiction, I often don’t. In general, I tend to feel like I’m missing something when I read literary fiction. Like there’s some integral part of it that I just didn’t grasp. With Little Fires Everywhere, I never got that feeling. With Little Fires Everywhere, aside from a bit of a slow start, I was hooked.

I think this is probably going to be the most hyped book that I read in 2018 (we’ll see) — but the hype is totally worth it. At the time of writing this review, there were 198 (electronic) holds on this book at my library! Luckily they have 34 electronic copies. Surprisingly, I only had to wait about a month for my copy.

A confession: I didn’t read the blurb. I just knew that everybody loves this book and I jumped in blind. Because of that, the book went in some directions I really didn’t expect! (Although even if I’d actually read the blurb, I think there were still some twists I wouldn’t have seen coming.)

At first glance, the book seems to be about the teenagers. And, truly, all of the teenagers were wonderful in their own ways. (Even Moody, as he was saying unforgivable things at the end, was at least acting realistically.) I loved the strong friendship that developed between the teenagers throughout the book, but this isn’t a book about them. Not really, at least.

More than anything, I think, this is a book about the parents. Their decisions. Their actions and the reactions they caused. Mrs. Richardson thinks she’s doing the best thing for her four children, but she’s so blind to her mistakes and the pain that they cause. Mia is a great mother, but moving Pearl all over the country has surely shaped her personality. Then we have Mrs. McCullough, a white woman who adopts a Chinese-American baby under controversial circumstances and has no idea why people are asking her if she knows a single thing about Chinese culture.

The book ends in a way that’s somehow, at the same time, shocking and completely expected. I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Highly recommended if you’re in the mood for a character-driven novel.


Have you read Little Fires Everywhere? Are you planning to?
Let’s talk in the comments!


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26 thoughts on “Book review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

  1. elissa says:

    I love Celeste Ng. Her mind is such a treasure. Have you read Everything I Never Told You? It’s kind of the same feel/mood in writing. I love how all of her characters have plots that intertwine with others’, so if you pull on one string it moves another character’s string along. It’s so hard to do. I’m so impressed by the tightness of her stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mara says:

    I loved this book! I read it this year and absolutely fell in love with the characterisation and the look into human nature and motives! I also read Celeste Ng’s other book this year, Everything I Never Told You, and it’ll probably be my favourite book of 2018!😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Becky @ Velvet Spade Reads says:

    I was late to this train too (it didn’t help that I had to wait months and months for this to be available from the library) but I loved this one! Good character driven novels are my happy place & this one deserves all the praise it’s been getting! Loved your review 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. littlemountainlibrary says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with literary fiction. I’ve seen this book advertised everywhere but didn’t know anything about it until I read your review. It sounds like one that could end up on my “love” list. Thanks for such a great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Karla J. Strand, DPhil, MLIS says:

    I love slow, character-driven literary fiction! haha This was so hyped though, which was why I haven’t picked it up yet. I totally support Celeste Ng but just haven’t gotten around to reading her work yet! I guess i’d better! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Like

  6. Winged Cynic says:

    Ooh, I was kinda skeptical about the positive reviews for this, but I absolutely love when parents are an integral part of a supposedly teen book, so you’ve just convinced me to pick this one up! Awesome review!!! 😀

    Like

  7. superkitty21books says:

    I’m very hesitant to pick up literary fiction. I always have the feeling I won’t /get/ the book but maybe I’ll pick this one up! Especially since I haven’t heard a single negative things about this book from so many people

    Liked by 1 person

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