All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control.
Celeste Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You, took 6 years to write. I’m so glad we didn’t have to wait 6 more from that publication to her newest. Little Fires Everywhere is Ng’s newest masterpiece, and it is just that. She’s managed to do what many authors cannot, and that is to write a second novel that is even better than her first. I was hooked from the first line, and I didn’t want to put it down. This book made me feel all the feelings, and made me question a whole lot about how I see the world and the people living in it.
Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn’t, you might burn the world to the ground.
Shaker Heights, Ohio, is a perfectly planned community full of perfectly planned families. Elena Richardson, journalist, mother of 4, wife of 1, grew up in Shaker Heights and returned to start a family right after college. Image is extremely important to her, and she works hard to maintain a shining one. When Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl move to town, looking to start a new chapter in their lives, Elena takes it upon herself to help them out, beginning with giving them a good deal on a rental. But when Pearl and Elena’s children become entwined, Elena starts to wonder about Mia’s mysterious past, and why they don’t really know anything about her. When one of Elena’s friends tries to adopt a Chinese-American baby, Mia and Elena, as well as the entire town, are split on whether or not the adoption should go through. Elena will not stop looking into Mia’s past until she figures out everything, no matter how many lives she ruins along the way.
The first thing that came to mind when I started reading this book was the song Little Boxes. (It was the theme song to the TV show Weeds, and it’s about perfect little box houses all in a row, and all the families looking the same.) Ng’s Shaker Heights is just like the song. Everyone has a large, perfect house, everyone is a doctor, lawyer, or executive, and everyone wants to be the same. Elena’s youngest child, Izzy (who I wanted so much more of), throws a wrench into those plans, and that’s all I’ll say because I don’t want to ruin the plot for you.
This book made me think, and I’m still thinking about it. It made me question my own motives behind the decisions I’ve made, and what kind of judgments I’m willing to pass on people who I’ve never met. Elena wants to be charitable, and she is, but only for certain people who meet certain criteria. She is very quick to pass judgment on other people and their situations, but that judgment changes when she or her family is in a similar situation. Ng really confronts the black and white that most of us use for right and wrong, and delves into all the shades of gray that are in between.
The writing, as usual, is wonderful. Ng moves fluidly between the characters’ past and present, and does so so seamlessly that not only did I not feel removed from the main story, I didn’t even realize it was happening. She is such a beautiful writer. (And I mean that in the best way, not in the, “this book is highbrow and no one can really understand it” way.) It is a brilliant, original story, and I literally hugged the book when I finished it and wanted to re-read it immediately.
Little Fires Everywhere is one of my favorite books of 2017, and most likely will be a lifetime favorite. It is heartbreaking and intriguing. It deeply examines familial relationships, as well as the way we pass judgment on other people. Ng shows that sometimes life isn’t just about keeping secrets for secrets’ sake, but about why we keep them, and what lengths we go to to protect our children and family. (And what exactly makes up that family.)
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ X 1,000
I have to include my favorite quote here, because it made me tear up when I read it, as a parent and as a fan of Ng’s writing.
“Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it, and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”
Ng is an expert at pinpointing the exact feeling we can all relate to and leaning into it with all her might. If you read this book and don’t feel SOMETHING, well, read it again!