People who live in Shaker Heights abide by the rules. But not Mia Warren, Shaker’s latest resident who has rented a flat from Mrs Richardson. She moves in with her teenage daughter Pearl and their lives become entwined with the Richardsons and the community.
The story begins in medias res: the Richardson’s house is burning down to the ground and Mia and her daughter are driving off, leaving their keys.
Mia is an artist and photographer with a mysterious past. She’s a single mother; she doesn’t stay in one place for very long.
Pearl makes friends with the Richardson family: the youngest daughter Izzy, wild and reckless who Mia takes under her wing; Lexie, and brothers Moody (nice, quiet) and Trip (popular, player). Mrs Richardson, feeling as though she is doing a good deed, employs Mia as their cleaner as well as subsidising her rent as she sees Mia working hard at the local Chinese restaurant. Pearl practically lives at the Richardson’s large family house, going there every day after school.
Soon, the community is ablaze with gossip concerning a custody battle between a husband and wife who have adopted a Chinese baby, and the baby’s mother. Mrs Richardson’s childhood friend adopted baby Mirabelle, or May Ling Chow, after she was found abandoned by a fire station and has looked after her as her own for a year. Mirabelle’s birth mother Bebe tries to get her baby back and the case goes to court. Bebe works with Mia at the Chinese restaurant and Mrs Richardson seizes her opportunity to get involved and unearth some of Mia’s family history.
‘Little Fires Everywhere’ is a story about class, race, family, and what makes us who we are. Pearl is fascinated with the Richardson family, their lifestyle and money, while holding their fascination too: a girl with an artistic mother who doesn’t play by the rules, living happily and freely in their small flat in town. Families are complicated and as soon as you try and control matters, things only complicate further.
It’s a wonderful book, masterfully told and crafted. Ng handles different points of view enviably well, a real lesson in how to narrate a story brilliantly. I felt like I was on a drone (‘Little Fires’ however is set in the 90s before drones were invented), comfortably hovering over the characters before delving in for a closer look. Her use of language is wonderful: economic, precise and then beautiful, poised. The story is perfectly paced, a page turner at times before it pauses, slowing down a little where we need it, and then picks up again.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I know you will too! I highly recommend it.
I really want to read more of Celeste Ng’s work now!
‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by Celeste Ng was published by Little Brown in November 2017. Hardback £14.99.