Synopsis (Goodreads): 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 principal 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.
At its heart Little Fires Everywhere is a book about relationships and what happens when people from different worlds and backgrounds collide.
When artist Mia, and her teenage daughter Pearl, arrive in the suburban community of Shaker Heights, having rented a house from Elena Richardson, a pillar of the community and mother to four teenagers of her own, an early friendship develops between Pearl and Moody, drawing Pearl and Mia into the orbit and lives of the Richardson family.
A tangled web of relationships develops, as is bound to happen in such a small and close-knit community, and the subtleties and complexities of each – between siblings, between friends, young lovers, mothers and daughters – are delicately and tantalisingly explored and revealed a layer at a time. How two people in a friendship might each perceive the relationship differently, such as in the case of best friends Pearl and Moody, or how expectations, love and concern can express itself negatively and in a stifling manner in a mother-daughter relationship such as between Elena and Izzy.
Small town politics brings out the strengths and weaknesses of all these relationships when a custody case over the adoption of a Chinese-American baby divides the community. Through this story, Celeste Ng explores the influence background and upbringing have on peoples’ thoughts and actions, and their character at its core. How some people thrive in a world where everything is defined by rules, social norms and expectations, but others need freedom…of thought, action and expression…to do the same. Neither is wrong, if anything this book highlights how non black and white life in all its complexity and glory actually is. Books like this make you think about quite a lot of things like what drives our choices and how do we live with the consequences of those choices…both good and bad? And to what extent do our choices dictate whether we will be happy or not, or are these things determined by forces outside our control?
This is definitely a page turner of a novel with a slow, tantalising build up to a series of explosive climaxes. The plot itself was pretty (deliciously) soap-operaish (small town community politics, teenage dramas) but it still feels real and relatable because of the depth of characters and the great writing. Definitely worth a read.