In Little Fires Everywhere, Author Celeste Ng skillfully weaves together two unlikely families as they hide secrets to pursue a good life. Elena Richardson, born and bred in Shaker Heights, is a buttoned up, mother of four. The relationships she has with her husband and children seem typical and normal, yet, as she is continually trying to do the right thing, she struggles with her own expressions and tendencies and unknowingly distances herself from her family. Free spirited, single mother, artist, Mia Warren and her obedient teenage daughter, Pearl, move to town and quickly become intertwined in the lives of the Richardsons. For Pearl, the Richardsons represent a typical, happy family; a family she would love to be a part of. For the Richardson kids, Mia is the fun mom, the person to trust, the one who encourages, supports and speaks the truth.
Mia and Elena are conflicted within themselves and each other; one is hiding the secret in her past, yet is living freely and authentically and the other is pursuing the truth, yet is living in a self created cage and holding back. Their relationship is complex; one would think mothers support other mothers yet not all mothers are created equal, and this is an interesting theme in the book. Mother daughter relationships is another reoccurring focus as we see how Elena’s daughters are drawn to Mia and how Pearl wants to spend her time at Elena’s house. When the Richardson’s family friend’s adoption debacle arises, there is a divide in who supports who, and what a mother’s rights are.
Celeste Ng writes a beautiful story using subtle touches to enhance her words. Along with the incendiary descriptions throughout, she uses the name Mrs. Richardson rather than first name, Elena, allowing the reader to feel distant. I enjoyed the way Mia expresses herself, I felt I could see inside her soul. Flawed yet beloved, Mia allowed each character to become more fully developed and live more honestly and truthfully. She was able to see everyone for who they really were and appreciate them at face value without judgement – just like her art, which portrayed what she saw with beauty and honestly, each photograph a composition which represented each subject’s powerful essence. On the other hand, Elena stood for what she believed what right, yet, to me, she seemed trapped.
In my opinion, at first look, Mia and Pearl were unlucky and the Richardsons had it all, but upon closer examination, the mother and daughter lived more authentically and had a much clearer grip on who they were. Finally, each character made a decision that impacted everyones else’s lives, culminating in a devastating, fiery end.
Little Fires Everywhere was the bookclub choice this month and it provided fantastic conversation and plenty of disagreement amongst us. I loved the story and highly recommend it along with Celeste Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You.