Celeste Ng explores the complexities of family life in her novel Little Fires Everywhere. The novel places a juxtaposition on the daily lives of two families — the first being the Richardsons, who have lived a cookie-cutter life in Shaker Heights, Cleveland. The Richardsons are a middle-class nuclear family who only knows how to live in the bubble that is Shaker Heights. It’s not until they’re introduced to the Warrens that cracks begin to finally reveal themselves within the idealistic family.
The Warrens, consisting of Mia and her daughter Pearl, have become accustomed to travelling the country and settling in new cities. Mia is the ultimate survivalist and throughout motherhood, has had to learn how to make do as life as an artist. She decides to take Pearl to Shaker Heights, as she heard that they have great schools and she no longer wants her daughter to live a nomadic life. She rents a small home from Elena Richardson.
The Richardsons are an intriguing family. Elena particularly is an interesting character who we see reveal more about herself as the book progresses. Her main concern is maintaining the status quo and acting as a moral judge of what is right and wrong. In her eyes, all mistakes are bad, and it’s for this reason that she begins to feel disconnected from her children (especially Izzy). Elena spends a large portion of her time investigating her tenant, while at the same time, she has little understanding of the challenges her children are currently going through. It’s almost as if she is envious of Mia and her ability to live a more free life, and this is why she is obsessed with uncovering her secrets when instead she should be looking in her own backyard. The Richardson’s have raised their children in a bubble where they don’t understand the harsh realities of life, and their parents are the only ones to blame. This is why the Richardson children become dazzled by Mia and Pearl — the lives the mother and daughter duo live are foreign to the children and they can’t help but feel drawn to them.
Ng did an exceptional job in her creation of the Richardson family. They’re not just simply characters in a book, they’re a representation of idealists in society who try and live their lives in a bubble. Watching their family life go off the rails was both intriguing and page-turning.
There are many areas of discussion that derive from reading Little Fires Everywhere, and that’s part of the beauty of it. Even when you reach the final page, you’ll be left with a wandering mind reflecting on the moral topics from the book.
(I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)