Little Fires Everywhere

Celeste Ng

I was recently prompted to read Little Fires Everywhere after watching the trailer for the TV show. I was intrigued by the concept but knew I wanted to read the book first and I am so glad that I did.

The novel centres around two families living in 1990s Shaker Heights, Ohio, who are brought together through they’re children. However, the matriarchs each take vastly different approaches to parenting. Mrs Richardson is committed to the rules, believing that if everyone simply conforms to the right way of doing things then there will be a perfect community, whereas Mia is an artist who has moved from place to place with her daughter, Pearl, living how she wants to and never staying in one place for too long.

This unspoken conflict between Mia and Mrs Richardson ultimately comes to a head in a custody dispute between family friends of the Richardson’s and a co-worker of Mia’s. After Bebe hits rock bottom and doesn’t know where to turn she leaves her baby at a fire station, where a social worker is called and the baby ends up being placed with the McCulloughs, who have been trying have a baby for almost a decade. Once Bebe finally receives the help she needs she desperately wants her baby back and so beings the tense custody battle and the catalyst for the downfall of Mia and Mrs Richardson’s relationship.

The story at the centre of the novel was what primarily caught my attention as it allows for exploration of the intersection between motherhood and socio-economic circumstances. This book considers how we as a society punish mothers simply because they have less money or struggle from social difficulties, such as being a single mother or an immigrant. If a mother feels unable to care for her child and abandons them, at what point does that become an irreversible decisions?

Finally, I think part of the brilliance of this novel is also found in how well Ng writes about Shaker Heights. On the surface, Shaker Heights seems like an idyllic place to live, where everyone has a nice house and every child goes to a good school, but the more I found out about it, the uneasier I became. The way Ng was able to create a building tension around seemingly harmless aspects of the community was very impressive. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the bins being kept at the back of the house, rather than the front, but every time a little rule like this is mentioned I was left feeling slightly more unsettled. This ever-present tension meant I couldn’t put the book down, always on the edge of my seat, waiting to find out what was going to happen.

This book is well-written with a simple story of motherhoos at its heart that still keeps you turning the pages, desperate to find out what will happen next. I would definitely recommend this book.