Abacus Books 2017
In the placid, progressive suburb of Shaker heights everything is meticulously planned, from 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.
Mia Warren, an enigmatic artist and single mother, 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 disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When the Richardson’s 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. 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.
This was a book I bought a while back and was prompted to read it now following a conversation with my friend Clair, who blogs at Always Need More Books you can check out her blog here. We decided to do a ‘buddy’ read and this was timely with the TV Series coming to Amazon Prime and was made more special because we decided to have a couple of chats about the book (midway and at the end) via Zoom, which is a definite positive to come out of the Covid 19 pandemic as previously we would have ‘chatted’ on Instagram and not an online video chat.
Anyway, on to the book, yes its sat on my shelf for a while and for whatever reason I was never that inspired to pick it up. I had seen some mixed reviews – some incredible while others best described the book as a bit ‘blah’. From the offset I found this to be an engaging read, undoubtedly a character driven novel and I enjoyed the development of the personalities as the book progressed.
Beginning with a house fire, the book quickly rolls back to the previous year and the arrival of enigmatic artist Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl to Shaker Heights. Much of this book is about the teenage relationships between Pearl and the Richardson children and I really liked the coming of age feel that captured many of the dramas of being a teen. While this is one aspect of the book there are two other key storylines, namely the backstory of Mia and the custody battle of the Chinese – American baby. These three stories integrated and flowed seamlessly in this highly readable story.
This book packs a lot into just short of 400 pages and the author has created a set of characters that will stay with me. Mia was interesting, with quite a past but her role in this story was warm, wise and inspiring to those around her, particularly to Isabelle the misunderstood, youngest of the Richardson children. Elena Richardson leads her perfect life at Shaker Heights, any regrets she has are plastered over as she seeks to enjoy her affluent lifestyle. Polarised with Mia in the custody battle her vengeance has far reaching and unforeseen effects. This is the character played by Reese Witherspoon and while I haven’t yet watched the series I cannot think of a better person to play Elena!
This was a book I enjoyed immensely and felt sad to finish, in part because there was no happy ending but also because things were left a little bit open, but mostly because it was such an absorbing read.
As a buddy read or a book club read Little Fires Everywhere is ideal. Some have suggested it is a little slow at the start, but that was not my experience, however as the story progresses there are a number of discussion points, dilemmas really that are tough and thought provoking. Clair and I couldn’t resolve them and I am sure they would lead to a fruitful book club discussion.
Do check out Clair’s review and tell me in the comments, have you read this one or have you watched the TV Series yet? What did you think?
About the Author
Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Shaker Heights, Ohio. She attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan. Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, won the Hopewood Award, the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian / Pacific American Award for Literature and the American Library Association’s Alex Award. She is a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, and she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.