When I saw the blurb for Little Fires Everywhere, I was instantly intrigued, and jumped at the opportunity to join the blog tour.
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 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.
When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of long-held secrets and the ferocious pull of motherhood-and the danger of believing that planning and following the rules can avert disaster, or heartbreak.
In Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng has created some stellar characters, and even with those I didn’t like as much (Elena and Lexie, I’m looking at you here) there were moments when I still admired them, or empathised with their situations, as all of the characters had their good and bad points making them extremely realistic. I absolutely adored Mia and her daughter Pearl, and I found Mia’s story – which the reader finds out more about as Elena goes digging for some dirt on her tenant – to be absolutely heart-breaking.
Elena, on the other hand, comes across as being elitist, looking down on those whom she considers to have made poorer life choices than she did, often without understanding their circumstances. She finds Mia to be disconcerting, largely because she doesn’t desire the life that Elena has made for herself and her family, and she finds this attitude incomprehensible. Whilst Mia is happy to take life as it comes, Elena firmly believes in the ethos of Shaker Heights:
the underlying philosophy being that everything could – and should – be planned out, and that by doing so you could avoid the unseemly, the unpleasant, and the disastrous.
The plot line regarding the adoption of a Chinese-American baby doesn’t come into the story straightaway, but acts as something of a catalyst as Mia and Elena are on opposing sides in the court of public opinion, and this acts as a trigger for Elena to do a little investigative work, uncovering the past that Mia has tried to put behind her. I found this element of the story to be absolutely fascinating, and whilst I had an opinion as to what the outcome should be, I could see both sides of the argument.
I don’t believe that this was the intention, but I thought that Shaker Heights came across as being vaguely dystopian, maybe even a little “Stepford”, in its apparent perfection and almost regimental adherence to order:
Order – and regulation, the father of order – had been the Shakers’ key to harmony.
This is probably a reflection of my reading habits more than it is of the novel, but I was instantly intrigued by the idea of a community which controls everything from the colour of the houses, the curvature of the roads, and even the time window in which trick or treating is permitted. I should point out that this isn’t a dystopian novel, but the town did have that kind of vibe, which I absolutely loved.
I thought that Little Fires Everywhere was absolutely brilliant. It’s a thought-provoking novel that covers so much more than the blurb would have you believe, covering mother-daughter relationships, family history and secrets, privilege and the expectations that come with that to name but a few. To top it all, it’s brilliantly written, and Little Fires Everywhere is likely to feature in my favourite novels of the 2017.
Little Fires Everywhere was published in hardback by Little, Brown on 9 November. Many thanks to Grace Vincent for providing a copy for review, and for inviting me to join the blog tour.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Make sure you check out the other bloggers who are on the tour today: