Little Fires Everywhere starts off with just that …… little fires everywhere, that result in burning down the home of the Richardson family. Therein lies the fuse that starts the story — who is responsible and why?
We are then introduced to the Richardson family — Elena and her husband Bill, and their four kids that live a seemingly perfect life in a seemingly perfect community, Shaker Heights, Ohio. Shaker is one of the country’s first planned communities, built on structure and rigid rules, right down to the color of your house. Mrs. Richardson thrives on the Shaker Heights mentality — that conforming to rules is not only desired, but essential to preventing chaos. Unplanned change is absolutely unacceptable to Mrs. Richardson and her neighbors. So when Mia, the gypsy-like artist, and her 15-year old daughter, Pearl, move to town, Mrs. Richardson’s perfect little world is set aflame, both figuratively and literally. The two newcomers become entwined in the community, setting off sparks that can’t be dampened, forever changing the lives of the Richardson family and their friends.
Ng’s prose is beautifully crafted. The characters are quirky and engaging, if not annoying at times. I empathized with Pearl, forever following the whims of her mother, and desperately seeking to belong amidst the more traditional family roles of the Richardson home. I also felt a connection with Izzy, the Richardson’s youngest daughter, relegated to be the black sheep of the family. Never feeling at home in her own family, she chooses Pearl’s mother, Mia, as a mentor and confidante. And of course, Shaker Heights itself, which although a place, not a person, is strong enough to be a character all its own. It is a story that involves family dynamics, racial tension, a custody battle, and the heartbreaking need to belong.
As a native of the Cleveland-area and intimately familiar with Shaker Heights, there really is nothing for me to not like about this book. I did enjoy it, but I didn’t fall in love with it. Perhaps, never having been a mother, I found it difficult to relate to the trio of subplots that revolve around motherhood and babies. Perhaps I found the pretension of the seemingly perfect town too close to home. Maybe the plot just seemed too meticulously planned, just like the town itself. For whatever reason, Little Fires Everywhere didn’t spark a fire under me — but rather just simmered on low from beginning to end.
But not every book has to set your life on fire. Sometimes it is just nice to read a good book. So read it and let me know if it has enough fuel to spark a flame for you. Enjoy!
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