I read Everything I Never Told You a couple of years ago, and I was surprisingly impressed by the writing and the characters in the novel. So when I saw that Celeste Ng had a new book out, Little Fires Everywhere, and it was on NPR’s Best Books of 2017 List, I immediately put it on my to-read list.
The blurb on the book made me think that this book was only about the adoption of a young Chinese baby by a white couple. In reality, the book has a lot more going on. It takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a wealthy, planned, suburban community. Mia and her high-school-aged daughter, Pearl, have just moved into the area. They are renting the upper-level apartment in a small house, so Pearl can take advantage of the good school system. Their landlord is Elena Richardson, a mother of four, who lives across town in a fancy house with her attorney husband, Bill, and four, beautiful, teenage children: Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzy.
The many characters of this novel each have their own story, and they quickly become intertwined. Mia is a peripatetic artist and photographer. She has moved, every six months or so, whenever she finishes a project, bringing her daughter along with her. When Pearl befriends Moody Richardson and begins to spend most of her time in the Richardson household, Mia agrees to do part-time housekeeping work at the Richardson’s–in part to keep an eye on her daughter. In addition, Moody is in love with Pearl, and Pearl has a crush on Trip. Lexie is successful and self-centered and getting ready to go to college. Izzy is idealistic and discontented and the black sheep of the family. She understandably bonds with Mia. There is a ripple of jealousy from Elena Richardson towards Mia that informs some of her decisions.
In a community that is planned to be perfect, and is full of successful people, there is plenty of room for hypocrisy. Ng explores this theme with many of her characters. You may be wondering, as I was, what this story has to do with an interracial adoption. It turns out that one of Elena Richardson’s oldest friends has been trying to start a family for years with heartbreaking results. They finally take custody of a Chinese baby girl who was abandoned at a fire station. They’ve had their new little girl for almost a year and are close to finalizing the adoption when the birth mother, Bebe Ling, comes forward, wanting her daughter back. Every person in the community has an opinion and tensions grow as news coverage skyrockets over the case. Ng does not tie everything in a bow at the end. Some characters don’t find out the truth of their circumstances and we don’t learn everyone’s fate.
I enjoyed Little Fires Everywhere. The plot had a little bit of a mystery to it, and the characters were both challenging and sympathetic. I read this book very quickly, wondering what was going to happen next. However, because I read Everything I Never Told You first, I had very high expectations. When I compare the two books, Little Fires Everywhere started out a little bit slower. I also thought the characters were not quite as fleshed out and believable–although still very good when compared with most books. There were a couple moments in the book where I didn’t buy or didn’t understand why a character was acting in a certain way.
Finally, my last complaint was Ng’s description of firefighters. They didn’t ring true, and I found it distracting–a minor complaint–but something I still remember. On the whole, this was a good book with interesting characters and content. Definitely recommended.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.