Little Fires Everywhere opens with, you guessed it, a fire. The Richardson family, made up of Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, look on with horror along with their three kids: Moody, Trip, and Lexie. Their fourth child, and the black sheep of the family, Izzy, is nowhere to be seen, and thus is assumed to be the culprit of starting these little fires.
As with Celeste Ng’s previous novel, Everything I Never Told You, the book opens with a climactic event before pulling you back in time and revealing all of the little moments that led up to this one catastrophe. Ng did this so brilliantly with her first book, and it’s no different with her sophomore attempt here.
Taking place in Shaker Heights, a progressive, cookie-cutter type suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, we meet the Richardson family. They are your typical run-of-the-mill, ‘perfect’ All-American family. As with most, we soon learn that things aren’t as rosy as they appear for the Richardson’s. In keeping with their upper-middle-class niche, the Richardson’s own a second property nearby in Shaker Heights. This soon becomes the home of Mia, a vagabond artist, and her daughter, Pearl. Mrs. Richardson is quick to pat herself on the back, giving Mia and Pearl a place to live and employing Mia as the family cleaner, allowing her to earn some extra money while still focusing on her artistic pursuits.
In the meantime, there’s also a custody battle brewing when Bebe, a young Chinese immigrant, abandons her young daughter out of desperation, only for Mrs. Richardson’s longtime best friend, Mrs. Mucullogh, to adopt her.
I’d hate for anyone to think that this is your typical mother-daughter story, because it’s so much more than that. There is so much to unpack in this short but powerful novel: The secrets of mothers and daughters, what it means to be a mother, class divides, and the experiences of first-generation immigrants in the seemingly utopian setting of an American suburb. Celeste Ng is able to create such nuanced, multi-dimensional characters that you will loathe yet sympathize with, and admire yet shake your head at their messy decisions.
An outstanding sophomore effort from Ng, who has proven she is at the top of her game and not just a one-hit wonder. I’ll be eagerly anticipating her next release.
Buy a copy of the book here.