Firing On All Cylinders

Like Will, I wasn’t a big fan of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. However, even in reading that book I didn’t enjoy it was apparent Ng was a writer to be reckoned with if she could only get her ducks in a row.

In Little Fires Everywhere those ducks are starting to line up.

Shaker Heights is a weirdo planned community in Ohio. Like everything is meticulously planned — the color your house can be, the placements of elementary schools so they are easy to walk to and not by any busy streets, the train that gets people to Cleveland super fast. Honestly, just reading about Shaker Heights and how/why it was founded was really interesting to me.

Local newspaper reporter and lifetime Shaker Heights resident, Elena Richardson loves everything about her precious suburb where she is the queen bee. It goes right along with her plans to be a working mother of four with a rich husband who rents the property her parents left her to people she finds intriguing and worthy of her generous rent discounts.

Enter Mia Warren, an itinerant artist and her 15-year-old daughter, Pearl.

Almost immediately Pearl falls in love with the Richardson kids and they fall right back in love with her. Each is drawn to the exotic way the other lives. Pearl likes the solidity of the Richardson house, the always full refrigerator, and the monotony of their privileged suburban life. The other kids like Pearl’s newness, her intelligence, and like to hear about her strange, artistic mother.

Things are going swimmingly until Elena’s oldest friend tries to adopt an abandoned Chinese-American baby and Mia encourages the baby’s biological mother to fight for custody. Elena is not pleased and puts her journalistic skills to work figuring out exactly what Mia’s secretive backstory is.

Meanwhile kids will be kids and they fall in love, fuck, and feel alienated in different combinations that are interesting and fun to read about.

Nothing here is earth shattering — the conformity of the suburbs vs the artist’s need for deviation. No conclusions are groundbreaking — conformity is smothering! However, Ng’s writing is captivating and the story she tells is familiar, but interesting. Ng is at her best when she’s writing about Mia and Mia’s art. I find stories about artists fascinating (see: Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs) and Mia Warren’s story is no different.

I throughly enjoyed this one. It’s smart and engaging, and while the male characters are flat afterthoughts for the most part, the female characters are fully-realized and believable.

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