Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

a bookclique pick by Lindsey Mead

Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere is both page-turningly entertaining and thoughtful.  I raced through the story, curious about what would happen with the beautifully detailed, deeply human characters, and then, once I put it down, found I could not stop thinking about the world Ng had created.

Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Little Fires Everywhere explores themes of race and class, planning and surprise, loyalty and secrecy, and the many forms the mother-daughter relationship can take.  At its heart, the novel follows the ways the paths of Elena Richardson, Shaker Heights born and bred, the matriarch of a large and successful family and Mia Warren, a bohemian single mother who moves every few months meet and intersect.  As different as can be imagined on the surface, Elena and Mia begin a relationship that winds up changing the course of both of their lives.

Ng’s richly populated story also explores the custody battle between a friend of Elena’s and a friend of Mia’s, and that heated legal encounter is only one contributor to the increasingly fraught relationship between the two women.  Their newly intertwined lives begin to unravel messily, and it is that denouement that Little Fires Everywhere follows.

The title of the book comes from the end of the story, which is also its first scene: an act of arson and the echo of a comment on character makes that “Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow.”  Little Fires Everywhere asks important, thoughtful questions about the run up to that scorching: how much of life can we anticipate and structure, is motherhood defined by genetics or by love, and how much can we trust those we think we know best?

 

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