Book review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Secrets and lies weave a tangled web in this story about life choices and the love between a mother and child.

The book begins with the end. The family home of the Richardsons – who have spent all their lives in the perfect community of Shaker in Ohio – is burned down in a fire that everyone knows was set by the youngest Richardson, Izzy.

But how did this seemingly perfect family get to this point? What tipped rebellious Izzy over the edge?

I loved the characters in this book. At the centre of it all was two very different mothers – Mia Warren and Elena Richardson.

When Mia and her daughter Pearl arrive in the perfect neighbourhood, mother and daughter shake things up as their lives collide with the Richardsons and their seemingly idyllic life.

Single mum Mia is a free-spirited artist who carries a secret, but whose love for bending the rules captures the attention of the Richardson children.

Mum-of-four Elena is a journalist. She has followed the same path her entire life, knowing she would end up living in her family home in Shaker. She loves rules and Mia’s carefree existence is at first a novelty to her, before the pair clash over a heartbreaking situation. Where she once had fire, she squashed it out in favour of the family life she thought she wanted. But meeting Mia has her wondering what she’s missed out on.

The fiery conflict between Mia and Elena is set off by the legal tug-of-war over baby Mirabelle, whose birth mother abandoned her at a fire station when she was just a few months old.

Now Elena’s friends want to adopt her, but the baby’s real mother wants her back.

Baby Mirabelle’s real name is May Ling, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant. Would she miss out on her culture and heritage if raised by a white American family? The debate about race and adoption is no easy one, and the characters add their own views to the row – but who is right?

As Mia and Elena stand on opposite sides of the debate, old wounds are opened and heartbreaking discoveries are made that could ruin lives.

As the characters hurtled towards the inevitable conclusion, I was left torn about whose side I was on! I rooted for them all in different ways, but no one could come out the clear winner in this sad tale.

Ng’s writing is beautiful and she manages to bring a large cast of characters to life, weaving their individual stories together effortlessly.

Motherhood is the central theme of this story, and so I identified with both the two leading ladies in the book and their friends who are fighting over the same baby.

The moral dilemmas in this book have no easy answers. Ng brings a whole lot of issues to life in this book – teen pregnancy, surrogacy, adoption and parental responsibility.

Giving these problems a human face, we are shown both sides of the debate and while my mind was made up on certain issues, with others I struggled to decide what I would do.

As well as adult drama, there’s a whole lot of teen angst in this book too!

The teenagers are standing on the edge of adulthood, and as we learn about the choices their parents made at the same age, it emphasises how these crossroads can impact our entire lives.

Although Mia was the character who I had most empathy for, I couldn’t help but identify with Elena and her desire to maintain the quiet equilibrium of her life.

The book is being turned into a miniseries starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. It’s bound to be gripping viewing, but I would definitely recommend reading the book before it comes out. Ng’s impressive way of bringing complicated moral issues, and the characters who are wrestling with them, to life is not to be missed.

Little Fires Everywhere is the June book of the month from the Mumsnet Book Club.

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