Reviewed by: Jennifer Chretien, Reference Librarian
Rating: 3.5 stars
Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl pulled into the planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio on one random day. Mia, an artist, was looking for new inspiration and Pearl was looking for a place to finally call home after 45 moves in her 15 years. Shaker Heights, with its orderly yet idyllic planned neighborhoods seems like just the place to start over. Soon their lives intertwine with the Richardsons, a family of 6 that seem so all-American that they could be an Ivory Soap commercial. At least that's what the mother, Elena, wants everyone to believe.
Elena believes in rules, appearances, and community well-being. She rents out her duplex to Mia because she thinks it makes her a "do-gooder". Her husband offers Mia a job cleaning for them because it seems like it is the right thing to do. In Shaker Heights, it is the appearance of magnanimity that is important and not generosity for generosity's sake. So when Mia falls on the opposite side of a local custody battle, Elena goes hunting into Mia's past to punish her for her lack of appreciation. This act not only devastates Mia and Pearl; it sends Elena's carefully constructed house of cards life into complete disarray as collateral damage.
Little Fires Everywhere is a book about the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters, tolerance of differences, and the devastation that can occur when the appearance of happiness are a higher priority than actual happiness. Celeste Ng has a wonderful way of fleshing out characters, including their motivations. It is a slow burn; at times I struggled to stay with the book because I wanted more action to take place but patience is rewarded. At the end of of the book, the reader knows exactly why characters acted the way they did. Unfortunately I felt a keen sense of deja-vu the whole time I was reading the book. Not much seemed entirely original or surprising throughout it. It could be because I was raised in a comparable community in a very similar family to the Richardsons. It could also be because the story was, in fact, predictable.
In addition to critical acclaim, Little Fires Everywhere won the 2017 GoodReads Choice Award for Best Fiction