Little Fires Everywhere
Nothing is left to chance in Elena Richardson’s life. Her family has lived for generations in Shaker Heights, a planned community outside of Cleveland, Ohio. And Elena has spent her adult life meeting the goals to match her life to the Shaker Heights model: marriage, career, beautiful home, and children. Raised in affluence and taught to help others, she makes a point of being generous.
Mia Warren and her teenage daughter, Pearl, live the opposite way. Low on money, they move from town to town where Mia waits tables and works on her art. When she needs new inspiration, they pack up and leave. But this time, Mia is determined to give Pearl a more grounded life.
The story is set in the 1980s and begins with a Richardson family crisis. Then Ng rewinds to explain how it all began:
It seems like the perfect arrangement when the Warrens move into the Richardsons’ subsidized rental. But the threat of change looms as their lives intersect. A fast friendship develops between Pearl and Elena’s son, Moody, and Pearl is soon fascinated with the Richardson family, believing Elena is the consummate mom. Elena’s kids are equally drawn to Mia, who shows them a different kind of parenting.
The kids can’t articulate these differences, but they form the slow-burning backdrop to the biggest story in Shaker Heights—an intensely debated adoption case. The baby is one-year-old Mirabelle McCullough, or May Ling if you ask her birth mother, Bebe Chow.
As the judge’s hearing approaches, the town takes sides and the question of motherhood figures into all of Ng’s characters. The McCulloughs are sure they can be the best parents to baby Mirabelle, but doesn’t Bebe Chow deserve to have her daughter?
Several side stories between the Pearl and Richardson kids highlight the intensity of high school years in which friendship, romance, hormones and fitting in figure prominently. Ng includes plenty of sibling rivalry to reveal the complicated dynamics in the Richardson home.
In addition to motherhood, Ng questions the motives of Elena’s good works and asks, “What is the best way to live?” Throughout the story are themes of sacrifice and life choices. Readers will see how some of her characters figure it out and wonder what fares for others.
I highly recommend Little Fires Everywhere. It’s a terrific story of complicated family dynamics. You’ll want to read it all at once to know how it works out!
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