It has been a long assed week full of so many people disappointing me that it feels like it is being choreographed for someone’s amusement. I’m thankful for books for always being that thing in my life that isn’t terrible AND that doesn’t require me to talk to or forgive them. So it was a good time to jump back into deeper and more complex books than the ones I read while on vacation. Luckily, Celeste Ng is back and I am here to allay all worries of a sophomore slump after an incredible debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, because there is not one. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, is lovely and quietly brilliant. Like the first, Little Fires is a slow burn (see what I did there?), so don’t go in expecting anything too fast paced or sensational, but when it gets there, it really gets there.
The story takes place in the 1990’s in Shaker Heights, a planned community outside of Cleveland. The residents of Shaker Heights play by the rules. They have agreed to be progressive and uniformly successful and to not paint their house in colors outside of the approved color scheme. I actually know people from Shaker Heights and she really nailed it pretty well. Our main story centers on the Richardson’s, a family that fit in almost perfectly. They have four children, one year apart, and the first three, Lexie, Trip and Moody, are very typical. Izzy, however, is a dark horse who stands out by being rebellious and interesting compared to her siblings.
Barreling into this suburban paradise to rent a house from the Richardson’s comes Mia and Pearl Warren. Mia is an artist, a photographer who drifts from place to place when the mood strikes her, taking menial jobs to pay the rent and buy food and working on her art most of the time. Pearl is her teen aged daughter who is instantly drawn to the Richardson children, enjoying the structure, threatening to disrupt the bohemian lifestyle that Mia has created for them. And Izzy is drawn to Mia as well, finding a kindred spirit in her ‘different’ness. There is also an important subplot that involves a friend of Mia’s who has abandoned her newborn but then decides she wants her back, and a friend of Elena Richardson’s, who is finalizing the adoption of that baby. This leads us down all kinds of alleys that I won’t spoil in any way here.
Little Fires Everywhere is beautifully written, and sad and complex. The art that Ng describes Mia creating is a feat in itself. Highly recommend this book, and Everything I Never Told You, as well.
Little Fires Everywhere – Grade A-