Today I am marking off my fourteenth #14 checkpoint category for the POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020 with:
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 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 old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town – and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost . . .
Described as a ‘marvel’ by Paula Hawkins, Little Fires Everywhere is the second novel from Celeste Ng, which follows her debut New York Times bestseller, Everything I Never Told You. An intricate story that encompasses a varied cast list, Little Fires Everywhere penetrates community life, rules, governance, friendship, family relations, motherhood, parentage and the depths of love, it offers an insightful portrait of modern US life.
Little Fires Everywhere is set in the picture perfect fictional locale of Shaker Heights, Cleveland. Shaker Heights is a tightly governed neighbourhood, a suburban utopia of sorts, where the yards are carefully manicured and well maintained houses pepper the streets. The residents are driven and successful. At the very top of the Shaker Heights ladder is Elena Richardson, a pinnacle of the community. When a very different family arrives in Shaker Heights, the residents are forced to accept an outsider. Mia is an artist and she brings her teenage daughter Pearl in tow, securing a rental from Elena Richardson. It doesn’t take long before the Richardson family become wrapped up in the lives of this single mother and her daughter. Secrets come to light about this mother and daughter’s past, which goes against all the rules of the Shaker Heights community. The equilibrium of Shaker Heights is further complicated by an adoption case, led by close friends of the Richardson family. A terrible fight for custody occurs, which sets about splintering the whole Shaker Heights community. With the residents squabbling over which side to back, Mia and Elena find themselves at war. Elena is intent on exposing Mia’s past life and the trail of lies that follows her, which results in a showdown of epic proportions.
Little Fires Everywhere has been on my shelves since this novel was first released in Australia in 2017. I was compelled to finally take this book off my groaning shelves for two reasons. The first was that Reece Witherspoon has heavily endorsed this novel on her book club that I closely follow and she has recently adapted it to a mini series. I was keen to give this one a go and find out why so people were raving about it. The second reason was that I was on the hunt for a book to fulfil the 2020 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge category of, a book with a great first line. This knockout first line reads, ‘Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children had gone on the bend and burned the house down.’ I loved the gossipy tone of this opener, it certainly enticed me to read on to find out why the youngest child of a household would commit an act of arson. Unfortunately, I found that Little Fires Everywhere didn’t quite live up to the high expectations I had placed on it, which is due to the many positive reviews I have seen circulating around since this book was first introduced to the public. I found Little Fires Everywhere very slow, especially the first half of the book and I couldn’t develop a connection to the wide cast list. The character stories seem scattered and I struggled to come to grips with the all the threads that I was issued with. I became impatient, as well as confused as to where all these seemingly different stories would eventually intersect. I was quite exasperated while reading this book.
Urged on my some lovely and supportive readers on an online group I am part of, I gave Little Fires Everywhere book my all, despite not feeling anything remarkable was happening. The second half did pick up and I began making some in roads with the characters and their respective pathways. I came to see the title as quite poignant, which I saw as referring to all the little fires and issues we have in our lives, that eventually build up to a point where we ignite and something life changing occurs.
Ng incorporates some pertinent themes within her book from class differences, finances, ambition, restrictions, appearances, abortion, conception, infertility, adoption, teen relations, friendship, loss, love, passion, art, family politics, trust, fear, lies and secrets. Little Fires Everywhere had a Wisteria Lane vibe and I appreciated walking in the shoes of a very different US community. Ng reprises her setting very well, immersing the reader in a rich suburban tale of conflict. Overall, I was most taken by the focus on renewal, rebirth and reinvention within Little Fires Everywhere.
“Sometimes, just when you think everything’s gone, you find a way.” Mia racked her mind for an explanation. “Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago, when we were in Nebraska. 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.” She held Izzy’s at arm’s length, wiped her cheek with a fingertip, smoothed her hair one last time. “People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.”
Despite having high expectations prior to reading this novel and in the early stages of reading this book, Little Fires Everywhere didn’t set my own reading world on fire. However, I am glad that I finally gave it a go, especially to see what all the commotion was about! I’m keen to see how Reece Witherspoon will handle to production side of things when this series is made available to Australian viewers.
*** 3 stars
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was published on September 12th 2017 by Hachette Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, visit here.