Mad about books: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by Celeste Ng


Bret Belden

Author Celeste Ng has an amazing ability to make something that is seemingly mundane into something exciting that a reader just can’t put down. That is probably why Reese Witherspoon is helping adapt her book, “Little Fires Everywhere,” into a TV show.  

“Little Fires Everywhere” is about two intertwined families – the Richardsons and the Warrens – in the 1990s. Every chapter is a different POV, sometimes looking at things through the eyes of the children of the families and other times hearing the adult side of the story. The Richardsons are an “all-American family.” Elena works at her local newspaper, married her college sweetheart, moved back to her hometown into a big house and had four children, two boys and two girls. The Warrens consist of wanderer Mia and her daughter Pearl, who each march to the beat of their own drum.  

The book starts with the Richardson house on fire and the youngest child Izzy – who is also considered to be the problem child – gone. From there, Ng takes a step back to when these lives intersected and takes a look at the events leading up to the large house fire. Soon after they meet, Mia and Pearl become tenants of Elena. When Pearl starts coming over to the Richardson’s almost every day, Elena hires Mia for housekeeping as a gesture of goodwill. Mia, however, has a mysterious past that Elena Richardson feels she needs to uncover.  

Not only that, but the adoption of a Chinese baby from a completely different family tear both of these families apart. Everyone starts taking sides on who should have the baby: the rich adoptive parents or the single maternal mother? The case goes all the way to court with the whole town watching.  

The point of the book can be summed up in this one line: “It came, over and over, down to this: what made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”  

Although the book is slow-moving, Ng writes her characters and scenes in a way that keeps the reader’s attention. The interconnection between all these lives drives the plot forward, and the character development is well paced. Ng also highlighted secondary characters backstories as well, mostly the two families fighting over the baby, the lawyers involved in the case, and others, but this never takes away from the main plot. The small interactions that everyone had with each other, Elena scolding Izzy, Moody keeping his crush hidden from Pearl, Lexie and Brian’s high school relationship—they all have big impacts and a ripple effect that touches everyone.  

Even though there are so many characters in the novel, I was never lost or confused as to who was who and what their relationships were. As I said before, this is a rather slow-moving book, so this isn’t for someone who wants a thriller or a family drama. You may like this book if you’re interested in the day-to-day of characters’ lives, need an easy read when taking a break from academia or if you just want to prepare for the upcoming TV adaption.