Monday, January 29, 2018

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Reviewed by Kristin

Secrets lie beneath the peaceful orderliness of Shaker Heights, Ohio, a planned community where there is a right way to do everything.  Of course that means there are wrong ways to do things, but those ways just aren’t tolerated.  Houses are built in certain styles, painted in certain colors; roads are curved just so, and nothing so unattractive as a trash can would ever grace the curbs of the community.  The schools are excellent and all children are expected to perform to the best of their ability.

Little Fires Everywhere begins with Elena Richardson (well-ordered wife and mother of four) calmly standing outside in her pale blue bathrobe watching her house burn to the ground.  Mrs. Richardson knew that her husband had gone into his law office for his usual Saturday morning catch-up, Lexie had spent the night with Serena, Trip was probably playing basketball at the community center, Moody was off somewhere on his bike, and Izzy, well, Izzy was surely responsible for the flames rising from their six bedroom home, so she was safe somewhere, anywhere else but here.

Mia Warren and her fifteen year old daughter Pearl were new to Shaker Heights the previous summer.  Mia is an artist, and seemed deserving of a hand up, so Mrs. Richardson rented them the upper level of a duplex that she owns, at a very reasonable rate, of course.  The Richardson children are all fascinated by Pearl and Mia—their transient lifestyle, their ability to load everything they own into a Volkswagen Beetle, their creative spirits which don’t quite seem to follow the rules set down by the founders of Shaker Heights.  First Moody, then Lexie, Trip and Izzy become friends with Pearl, then Mia.

As relationships develop, author Celeste Ng unfurls the complex strands of the story centered around these two families.  Just when the reader thinks that the connections are becoming clear, another twist appears taking the storyline in another direction.  These maneuverings are done smoothly and believably, subtly showing Ng’s skill.

While the teenagers are having their coming-of-age moments, cracks appear in their picture perfect community as secrets are unearthed and families changed forever.  As little fires begin to burn, the scorching brings destruction, but also change and rebirth.

Celeste Ng is also the author of Everything I Never Told You.

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