Summer Reads: “Little Fires Everywhere”

by Jennifer Lahl, CBC President on August 11, 2020

Do you ever pick up a book that you know nothing about and just start reading? 

That is what happened to me when I purchased Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.  I had heard some buzz about the TV show adaptation of the book on Hulu. Then I saw some comments on Twitter about the book from people I admire. The book buzz said, “Read the book – do not watch the show,” so I ordered the book and started reading. 

One caveat. For my pleasure reading, I tend to stay away from topics that are what I call work-related.  For example, you will not find me reading sci-fi or fantasy novels about human cloning or genetic engineering.  Or books on the history of eugenics.  I rather dislike the whole dystopian genre as my day-to-day work deals so much in that.

What I like is a good story, and Little Fires Everywhere is just that, even though, as you will see, it is a book that is related to the work that I do.

The story opens in the idyllic town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, with the home of the prominent Richardson family burning to the ground. The Richardsons have four children: Izzy, Lexie, Moody, and Trip. Elena Richardson, the family matriarch, lives a controlled life that plays by the rules.  Her daughter Izzy, the most rebellious of her four, constantly challenges her desire for the picture-perfect family.  

Elena has a small rental home she inherited from her family, and soon rents it out to a single mother, Mia Warren, and her daughter, Pearl. Mia, is a photographer and has a history of moving from town to town, sometimes leaving on a moment’s notice.  She explains to Pearl their itinerant way of living is due to the nature of her work and her need to move on to a new place for new inspiration. They have few earthly possessions and can pack and split in the blink of the eye.  They have a story, or really a secret, that keeps them on this itinerant path.

Elena is curious about Mia and her way of living. She is surprised by their lack of possessions, and even more, their lack of care for or desire of possessions.  Soon, the Richardson’s children and Pearl become friends, and Elena offers Mia a job as a housekeeper in exchange for rent reduction.  The Richardson children become drawn to Mia and Pearl and confide in them their own family problems and secrets. Elena becomes untrusting of Mia and is determined to discover and expose Mia’s secret past.

Through several twists and turns, little fires everywhere get started throughout the story. There is surrogacy.  There is international adoption.  There is child abduction. And there is abortion. But the thread that holds the fires together is the weight and power secrets have to destroy and the strong maternal instinct that seeks to protect our children.

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