The runaway New York Times bestseller!
Named a Best Book of the Year by:
People, The Washington Post, Bustle, Esquire, Southern Living, The Daily Beast, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Audible, Goodreads, Library Reads, Book of the Month, Paste, Kirkus Reviews, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and many more!
"I read Little Fires Everywhere in a single, breathless sitting." –Jodi Picoult
“To say I love this book is an understatement. It’s a deep psychological mystery about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love, and the danger of perfection. It moved me to tears.” - Reese Witherspoon
“I am loving Little Fires Everywhere. Maybe my favorite novel I've read this year.”—John Green
"Witty, wise, and tender. It's a marvel." – Paula Hawkins
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.
In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town--and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood – and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.
Perfect for book clubs! Visit celesteng.com for discussion guides and more.
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2017 Celeste Ng
Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down. All spring the gossip had been about little Mirabelle McCullough—or, depending which side you were on, May Ling Chow—and now, at last, there was something new and sensational to discuss. A little after noon on that Saturday in May, the shoppers pushing their grocery carts in Heinen’s heard the fire engines wail to life and careen away, toward the duck pond. By a quarter after twelve there were four of them parked in a haphazard red line along Parkland Drive, where all six bedrooms of the Richardson house were ablaze, and everyone within a half mile could see the smoke rising over the trees like a dense black thundercloud. Later people would say that the signs had been there all along: that Izzy was a little lunatic, that there had always been something off about the Richardson family, that as soon as they heard the sirens that morning they knew something terrible had happened. By then, of course, Izzy would be long gone, leaving no one to defend her, and people could—and did—say whatever they liked. At the moment the fire trucks arrived, though, and for quite a while afterward, no one knew what was happening. Neighbors clustered as close to the makeshift barrier—a police cruiser, parked crosswise a few hundred yards away—as they could and watched the firefighters unreel their hoses with the grim faces of men who recognized a hopeless cause. Across the street, the geese at the pond ducked their heads underwater for weeds, wholly unruffled by the commotion.
Mrs. Richardson stood on the tree lawn, clutching the neck of her pale blue robe closed. Although it was already afternoon, she had still been asleep when the smoke detectors had sounded. She had gone to bed late, and had slept in on purpose, telling herself she deserved it after a rather difficult day. The night before, she had watched from an upstairs window as a car had finally pulled up in front of the house. The driveway was long and circular, a deep horseshoe arc bending from the curb to the front door and back—so the street was a good hundred feet away, too far for her to see clearly, and even in May, at eight o’clock it was almost dark, besides. But she had recognized the small tan Volkswagen of her tenant, Mia, its headlights shining. The passenger door opened and a slender figure emerged, leaving the door ajar: Mia’s teenage daughter, Pearl. The dome light lit the inside of the car like a shadow box, but the car was packed with bags nearly to the ceiling and Mrs. Richardson could only just make out the faint silhouette of Mia’s head, the messy topknot perched at the crown of her head. Pearl bent over the mailbox, and Mrs. Richardson imagined the faint squeak as the mailbox door opened, then shut. Then Pearl hopped back into the car and closed the door. The brake lights flared red, then winked out, and the car puttered off into the growing night. With a sense of relief, Mrs. Richardson had gone down to the mailbox and found a set of keys on a plain ring, with no note. She had planned to go over in the morning and check the rental house on Winslow Road, even though she already knew that they would be gone.
It was because of this that she had allowed herself to sleep in, and now
it was half past twelve and she was standing on the tree lawn in her robe and a pair of her son Trip’s tennis shoes, watching their house burn to the ground. When she had awoken to the shrill scream of the smoke detector, she ran from room to room looking for him, for Lexie, for Moody. It struck her that she had not looked for Izzy, as if she had known already that Izzy was to blame. Every bedroom was empty except for the smell of gasoline and a small crackling fire set directly in the middle of each bed, as if a demented Girl Scout had been camping there. By the time she checked the living room, the family room, the rec room, and the kitchen, the smoke had begun to spread, and she ran outside at last to hear the sirens, alerted by their home security system, already approaching. Out in the driveway, she saw that Trip’s Jeep was gone, as was Lexie’s Explorer, and Moody’s bike, and, of course, her husband’s sedan. He usually went into the office to play catch-up on Saturday mornings. Someone would have to call him at work. She remembered then that Lexie, thank god, had stayed over at Serena Wong’s house last night. She wondered where Izzy had gotten to. She wondered where her sons were, and how she would find them to tell them what had happened.
By the time the fire was put out the house had not, despite Mrs. Richardson’s fears, quite burned to the ground. The windows were all gone but the brick shell of the house remained, damp and blackened and steaming, and most of the roof, the dark slate shingles gleaming like fish scales from their recent soaking. The Richardsons would not be allowed inside for another few days, until the fire department’s engineers had tested each of the beams still standing, but even from the tree lawn—the closest the yellow caution tape would allow them to come—they could see there was little inside to be saved.
“Jesus Christ,” Lexie said. She was perched on the roof of her car, which was now parked across the street, on the grass bordering the duck pond. She and Serena had still been asleep, curled up back-to-back in Serena’s queen size, when Dr. Wong shook her shoulder just after one, whispering, “Lexie. Lexie, honey. Wake up. Your mom just called.” They had stayed up past two a.m., talking—as they had been all spring—about little Mirabelle McCullough, arguing about whether the judge had decided right or wrong, about whether her new parents should’ve gotten custody or if she should’ve been given back to her own mother. “Her name isn’t even really Mirabelle McCullough, for god’s sake,” Serena had said at last, and they’d lapsed into sullen, troubled silence until they both fell asleep.
Now Lexie watched the smoke billow from her bedroom window, the front one that looked over the lawn, and thought of everything inside that was gone. Every T-shirt in her dresser, every pair of jeans in her closet. All the notes Serena had written her since the sixth grade, still folded in paper footballs, which she’d kept in a shoebox under her bed; the bed itself, the very sheets and comforter charred to a crisp. The rose corsage her boyfriend, Brian, had given her at homecoming, hung to dry on her vanity, the petals darkened from ruby to dried-blood red. Now it was nothing but ashes. In the change of clothes she had brought to Serena’s, Lexie realized suddenly, she was better off than the rest of her family: in the backseat she had a duffel bag, a pair of jeans, a toothbrush. Pajamas. She glanced at her brothers, at her mother, still in her bathrobe on their tree lawn, and thought, They have literally nothing but the clothes on their backs. Literally was one of Lexie’s favorite words, which she deployed even when the situation was anything but literal. In this case, for once, it was more or less true.
Trip, from his spot beside her, absentmindedly ran one hand through
his hair. The sun was high overhead now and the sweat made his curls stand up rather rakishly. He had been playing basketball at the community center when he heard fire trucks wailing, but had thought nothing of it. (This morning he had been particularly preoccupied, but in truth he likely would not have noticed anyway.) Then, at one, when everyone got hungry and decided to call it a game, he had driven home. True to form, even with the windows down he had not noticed the huge cloud of smoke wafting toward him, and he only began to realize something was wrong when he found his street blocked off by a police car. After ten minutes of explaining, he had finally been allowed to park his Jeep across from the house, where Lexie and Moody were already waiting. The three of them sat on the car’s roof in order, as they had in all the family portraits that had once hung in the stairwell and were now reduced to ash. Lexie, Trip, Moody: senior, junior, sophomore. Beside them they felt the hole that Izzy, the freshman, the black sheep, the wild card, had left behind— though they were still certain, all of them, that this hole would be temporary.
“What was she thinking?” Moody muttered, and Lexie said, “Even she knows she’s gone too far this time, that’s why she ran off. When she comes back, Mom is going to murder her.”
“Where are we going to stay?” Trip asked. A moment of silence unreeled as they contemplated their situation.
“We’ll get a hotel room or something,” said Lexie finally. “I think that’s what Josh Trammell’s family did.” Everyone knew this story: how a few years ago Josh Trammell, a sophomore, had fallen asleep with a candle lit and burned his parents’ house down. The long-standing rumor at the high school was that it wasn’t a candle, it was a joint, but the house had been so thoroughly gutted there was no way to tell, and Josh had stuck to his candle story. Everyone still thought of him as that dumbass jock who burned the house down, even though that had been ages ago, and Josh had recently graduated from Ohio State with honors. Now, of course, Josh Trammell’s fire would no longer be the most famous fire in Shaker Heights.
“One hotel room? For all of us?”
“Whatever. Two rooms. Or we’ll stay at the Embassy Suites. I don’t know.” Lexie tapped her fingers against her knee. She wanted a cigarette, but after what had just happened—and in full view of her mother and ten firemen—she didn’t dare light one. “Mom and Dad will figure it out. And the insurance will pay for it.” Although she had only a vague sense of how insurance worked, this seemed plausible. In any case, this was a problem for the adults, not for them.
The last of the firemen were emerging from the house, pulling the masks from their faces. Most of the smoke had gone, but a mugginess still hung everywhere, like the air in the bathroom after a long, hot shower. The roof of the car was getting hot, and Trip stretched his legs down the windshield, poking the wipers with the toe of his flip-flop. Then he started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Lexie said.
“Just picturing Izzy running around striking matches everywhere.” He snorted. “The nutcase.”
Moody drummed a finger on the roof rack. “Why is everybody so sure she did it?”
“Come on.” Trip jumped down off the car. “It’s Izzy. And we’re all here. Mom’s here. Dad’s on his way. Who’s missing?”
“So Izzy’s not here. She’s the only one who could be responsible?”
“Responsible?” put in Lexie. “Izzy?”
“Dad was at work,” Trip said. “Lexie was at Serena’s. I was over at
Sussex playing ball. You?”
Moody hesitated. “I biked over to the library.”
“There. You see?” To Trip, the answer was obvious. “The only ones here were Izzy and Mom. And Mom was asleep.”
“Maybe the wiring in the house shorted. Or maybe someone left the stove on.”
“The firemen said there were little fires everywhere,” Lexie said. “Multiple points of origin. Possible use of accelerant. Not an accident.”
“We all know she’s always been mental.” Trip leaned back against the car door.
“You’re all always picking on her,” Moody said. “Maybe that’s why she acts mental.”
Across the street, the fire trucks began to reel in their hoses. The three remaining Richardson children watched the firemen set down their axes and peel away their smoky yellow coats.
“Someone should go over and stay with Mom,” Lexie said, but no one moved.
After a minute, Trip said, “When Mom and Dad find Iz, they are going to lock her up in a psych ward for the rest of her life.”
No one thought about the recent departure of Mia and Pearl from the house on Winslow Road. Mrs. Richardson, watching the fire chief meticulously taking notes on his clipboard, had completely forgotten about her former tenants. She had not yet mentioned it to her husband or her children; Moody had discovered their absence only earlier that morning, and was still unsure what to make of it. Far down Parkland Drive the small blue dot of their father’s BMW began to approach.
“What makes you so sure they’ll find her?” Moody asked.
1. Shaker Heights is almost another character in the novel. Do you believe that “the best communities are planned”? Why or why not?
2. Little Fires Everywhere is set in the late 1990s, and we see the experiences of marginalized characters in the novel, as well as their interactions with those in the larger community. In what ways are attitudes toward race and class the same today? In what ways are they different?
3. There are many different kinds of mother-daughter relationships in the novel. Which ones did you find most compelling? Do mothers have a unique ability to spark fires, for good and ill, in us?
4. Which of the Richardson children is most changed by the events of the novel? How do you think this time ultimately changes Lexie’s life? Trip’s? Moody’s?
5. The debate over the fate of May Ling/Mirabelle is multilayered and heartbreaking. Who do you think should raise her?
6. How is motherhood defined throughout the book? How do choice, opportunity, and circumstances impact different characters’ approach to motherhood?
7. Mia’s journey to becoming an artist is almost a beautiful novella of its own. Mia’s art clearly has the power to change lives. What piece of art has shaped your life in an important way?
8. Pearl has led a singular life before arriving in Shaker, but once she meets the Richardsons, she has the chance to become a “normal” teenager. Is that a good thing?
9. What ultimately bothers Elena most about Mia?
10. The novel begins with a great conflagration, but its conclusion in even more devastating. What do you think happens to Elena after the novel ends? To Mia and Pearl? To Izzy? Do you think Izzy ever returns to Shaker and her family? Why or why not?
11. Celeste Ng is noted for her ability to shift between the perspective of different characters in her work. How does that choice shape the reader’s experience of the novel?
12. Izzy chooses “This Be the Verse” to sum up her life. Is what the poem says accurate, in the context of Izzy’s experience?
13. What does the title mean to you? What about the book’s dedication?
The setting of Celeste Ng's second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, is Shaker Heights, the storied Cleveland suburb where every blade of grass knows its place and every home is a shelter for lives of advantage and entitlement. The home of the Richardsons is one of just these, a stately manse where Elena Richardson, a reporter for the city's smaller newspaper, lives with her lawyer husband and her four children: the dashing athlete Trip, the effortlessly beautiful Lexie, the artistic Moody, and the rebellious Izzy. Life is good for the Richardsons, the wealth of past generations accruing in the ease of the present one. Elena, herself a child of Shaker Heights, takes pride in raising another generation there, her brood beautiful and talented and confident in futures lubricated by ease and plenty and the good fortune bestowed by those who came before.
It is onto this well-ordered stage that Ng's protagonist, Mia Warren, enters. If Shaker Heights stands for the stolid respect for convention, Warren has lived a life of thwarting it, restlessly moving from state to state with her teenage daughter, Pearl, in tow. If the Richardsons bow to the gods of convention and upper- middle-class restraint, Mia worships at the altar of art. A talented photographer, she takes on makeshift jobs, cleaning houses and waiting tables so that her days are free to pursue her photographic ambitions. If the carefully coiffed Elena is a somewhat mediocre reporter stuck at the less-than-best newspaper, Mia is gifted, her mesmerizing and haunting photographs selling at galleries in New York. Seemingly uninterested in either fame or fortune, she sells only a few, prioritizing authenticity of expression over ease of existence.
The lives of the two women collide when Mia rents a house that belongs to the Richardsons. The Winslow property (an oddity in rental-less Shaker Heights) is an inheritance whose rental income Elena doesn't really need. She uses it as a means of padding her altruism -- "helping" the less fortunate and, in the instant case, the picturesquely artistic. Before long, the lives of the Richardson brood are intertwined with those of Mia and Pearl. Following a landlady visit of sorts, during which Elena bestows much condescension on Mia's work in process ("You should really do portraits"), the latter ends up cleaning the Richardson home in exchange for rent. It permits her to keep an eye on Pearl, who, besotted with plenty and regularity (and the elder Richardson son), spends all her afternoons at their house. As the plot progresses, the youngest Richardson child, the rebellious Izzy, becomes equally besotted by Mia's artistry, making her way in the opposite direction to watch Mia wield her photographic craft.
The intertwining of the families, two contrasting models of motherhood equally possible in contemporary America, sets up the conflict that will drive them apart. Motherhood again is the fulcrum on which it turns. At the Chinese restaurant where she works, Mia befriends Bei Bei Chow, a young Chinese immigrant woman. Bei Bei, she learns, is in the grip of maternal tragedy that began when, bereft and nearly starving, she left her daughter at a fire station in Shaker Heights. She had meant to retrieve the child later, but when she tried to do so the baby was gone.
The baby is not gone. Mei Ling is now Mirabelle McCullough, the newly adopted and much adored adopted child of the McCulloughs, wealthy longtime friends of the Richardsons who had everything -- except, of course, a baby. A custody battle ensues, with Mia and Elena staked out on opposing sides and much of Shaker Heights glued to its details. Ng's narrative unfolds the disparate worlds within the apparent harmony of the community, with the needs of the Chinese immigrant who dishes up their takeout painfully colliding with the wants of the couple who lack only a baby. With the exposition comes the unraveling, the unspooling of the lies and subterfuge that shield the cossetted constituents of Shaker Heights. Nobody likes it.
In this, the central action of Little Fires Everywhere, Ng is masterful, exposing with terrifying acuity just how the well- meaning wealthy, afforded so much moral reverence in contemporary America, can be cruel and even evil. In underscoring how equipped she is to handle a Chinese baby, Mrs. McCullough points to the Chinese art on her walls and the fact that the baby "loves rice" and that in fact "it was her first solid food." Consumption is not just a metaphor here; it is the sum total of her understanding of culture and identity and of the fact that she who has everything is entitled to still more, even to a baby to complete the picture of perfection.
Bei Bei Chow's story, framed in Ng's gripping fiction, is close to an actual one that took place in Indiana, a few hours' drive away from Cleveland and Shaker Heights. In that case, a young Chinese immigrant, Bei Bei Shuai, was charged with murdering her newborn baby in March 2011. Shuai, who had fallen in love with a Chinese man who left her when she became pregnant, had tried to kill herself by ingesting rat poison. While Shuai survived, the baby died two days after it was born. Shuai became the first woman to be prosecuted for a suicide attempt, under Indiana's feticide statute, originally enacted to protect women and their children from third parties such as abusive boyfriends and husbands.
The actual Shuai case was just as divisive as the one Ng presents, with the poor immigrant woman being denigrated as a baby killer and an unfit mother. Non-immigrant others, such as Shuai's lawyer, were threatened with baseless disciplinary actions for trying to raise money for her client. The question of who qualifies as a good mother, and the idea that the state or the wealthy and the white must protect immigrant children from the cruelties of their unfit immigrant parents, are woven through Little Fires Everywhere. In the Shaker Heights of the novel, cultural and racial identity is only incidental -- something to be overcome, as Lexie Richardson's black boyfriend and Asian best friend seem to be doing by ascending class. "Mothers like her keep the cycle of poverty going," the same boyfriend reports his father as having said. Belonging with the white and wealthy requires shedding contrary opinions, lining up dutifully with the Richardsons and the McCulloughs.
The magic and mastery of fiction lies in its ability to extract the truths that are otherwise lost in the chaos of life, the details and rationalizations that cover them up, subtracting their sting. Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere does just that, isolating and teasing out the threads of class conformity, racist fear, and the hierarchies and codes that partake subtly of both. Little fires have become a conflagration by the end of the book: the Richardsons' home is burned to a husk; the McCulloughs' baby is missing, as is the Richardsons' own youngest child; Mia and Pearl have left for another town. In real life, devastation is almost routinely the fate of the far less endowed, the Bei Bei Shuais and the Mia Warrens. Fiction, at least, can offer up its own kinds of justice.
Rafia Zakaria is the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Beacon 2015), which was named one of Newsweek’s Top 10 nonfiction books of 2015. She is a regular columnist for Dawn Pakistan and writes the "Reading Other Women" Series at The Boston Review. Her work has appeared in Guardian Books, The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, The New York Times, Al Jazeera America, Dissent, Guernica, and various other venues.
Reviewer: Rafia ZakariaThe Barnes & Noble Review
Witnessing these two families as they commingle and clash is an utterly engrossing, often heartbreaking, deeply empathetic experience, not unlike watching a neighbor's house burn…Our trusty narrator is as powerful and persuasive and delightfully clever as the narrator in a Victorian novel…Ng doesn't miss an opportunity to linger over a minor character, even those we meet for only a moment…whose voices might otherwise be rendered in parentheses. At the same time, she offers a nuanced and sympathetic portrait of those terrified of losing power. It is a thrillingly democratic use of omniscience, and, for a novel about class, race, family and the dangers of the status quo, brilliantly apt.The New York Times Book Review - Eleanor Henderson
★ 07/17/2017Publishers Weekly
This novel from Ng (Everything I Never Told You) is both an intricate and captivating portrait of an eerily perfect suburban town with its dark undertones not-quite-hidden from view and a powerful and suspenseful novel about motherhood. When the eccentric and itinerant artist Mia Warren and her 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move into a rental house in Shaker Heights, Ohio, one summer, neither they nor their more conventional, affluent landlords, the Richardsons, have any reason to anticipate how dangerously enmeshed the two families will become. Before long, Pearl, enthralled by her first shot at a “normal” life, is spending every day with three of the four Richardson children, Lexie, Moody, and Trip, finding a best friend, a suitor, and a lover in turn. Meanwhile, Isabelle, the youngest Richardson teenager, starts heading over to see Mia, offering to work as her assistant but really looking for an escape. As both Mrs. Richardson and Mia Warren overstep their boundaries, Ng explores the complexities of adoption, surrogacy, abortion, privacy, and class, questioning all the while who earns, who claims, and who loses the right to be called a mother. This is an impressive accomplishment. Agent: Julie Barer, the Book Group. (Sept.)
"I read Little Fires Everywhere in a single, breathless sitting. With brilliance and beauty, Celeste Ng dissects a microcosm of American society just when we need to see it beneath the microscope: how do questions of race stack up against the comfort of privilege, and what role does that play in parenting? Is motherhood a bond forged by blood, or by love? And perhaps most importantly: do the faults of our past determine what we deserve in the future? Be ready to be wowed by Ng's writing and unsettled by the mirror held up to one's own beliefs." - Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and Leaving Time
“Witty, wise, and tender. It's a marvel.” -Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water
“Witnessing these two families as they commingle and clash is an utterly engrossing, often heartbreaking, deeply empathetic experience…It’s this vast and complex network of moral affiliations—and the nuanced omniscient voice that Ng employs to navigate it—that make this novel even more ambitious and accomplished than her debut…Our trusty narrator is as powerful and persuasive and delightfully clever as the narrator in a Victorian novel…It is a thrillingly democratic use of omniscience, and, for a novel about class, race, family and the dangers of the status quo, brilliantly apt…The magic of this novel lies in its power to implicate all of its characters—and likely many of its readers—in that innocent delusion [of a post-racial America]. Who set the littles fires everywhere? We keep reading to find out, even as we suspect that it could be us with ash on our hands.” —Eleanor Henderson, The New York Times Book Review
“[Ng] captures her setting with an ethnologist’s authority…And there are time-capsule pleasures in her evocation of 1997…The writing is poised.” —Wall Street Journal
“Delectable and engrossing…A complex and compulsively readable suburban saga that is deeply invested in mothers and daughters…What Ng has written, in this thoroughly entertaining novel, is a pointed and persuasive social critique, teasing out the myriad forms of privilege and predation that stand between so many people and their achievement of the American dream. But there is a heartening optimism, too. This is a book that believes in the transformative powers of art and genuine kindness — and in the promise of new growth, even after devastation, even after everything has turned to ash.” —Boston Globe
“[Ng] widens her aperture to include a deeper, more diverse cast of characters. Though the book’s language is clean and straightforward, almost conversational, Ng has an acute sense of how real people (especially teenagers, the slang-slinging kryptonite of many an aspiring novelist) think and feel and communicate. Shaker Heights may be a place where “things were peaceful, and riots and bombs and earthquakes were quiet thumps, muffled by distance.’ But the real world is never as far away as it seems, of course. And if the scrim can’t be broken, sometimes you have to burn it down. Grade: A-” —Entertainment Weekly
“Stellar…The plot is tightly structured, full of echoes and convergence, the characters bound together by a growing number of thick, overlapping threads….Ng is a confident, talented writer, and it’s a pleasure to inhabit the lives of her characters and experience the rhythms of Shaker Heights through her clean, observant prose. Before she became an author she was a miniaturist — almost too perfect for a writer of suburban fiction — and there’s a lovely, balanced, dioramic quality to this novel. She toggles between multiple points of view, creating a narrative both broad in scope and fine in detail, all while keeping the story moving at a thriller’s pace.”—LA Times
“Riveting…unearthing the ways that race, class, motherhood and belonging intersect to shape each individual…Perhaps Ng's most impressive feat is inviting the reader's forgiveness for Mrs. Richardson –– a woman whose own mission for perfection, and strict adherence to rules ultimately become the catalyst for the maelstrom that ensues.”—Chicago Tribune
“Like Sue Monk Kidd or Madeleine Thien, Celeste Ng has a carpenter’s sure touch in constructing nested, interconnected plots…There are few novelists writing today who are as wise, compassionate and unsparing as Ng, about the choices you make, the ones you don’t, and the price you might pay for missed lives.” —Financial Times
"When you're in the mood for family drama that's not your own, Little Fires Everywhere by CelesteNg will have you hooked." -The Skimm
“Sharp and entertaining—you can’t look away even when things are crashing and burning (literally)—and it possibly ranks up there with all-time great suburbia fiction, like Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides.” — Goop
“Opposites attract and also ignite in this thoughtful novel.” —People
"Ng writes with the wisdom of a hundred lives lived.” — Harpers Bazaar
“A riveting read and one of our favorite new works of fiction this fall.” —Refinery29
“[Ng] probes privilege and the compromises it requires in a riveting novel.” –O, The Oprah Magazine
“A meditation on rules, race, class, insiders, outsiders, motherhood. There is no throwaway character. And after you've raced to the end of the book, you'll want to read it again, to take the ideas and hold them up to the harsh light of 2017. Ng's novel would be a great read in any time period—but if you’re struggling with the present moment and how we got here, this novel will do what any good piece of fiction does: illuminate.” —Barrie Hardymon, NPR’s Best Books of 2017
“Like Everything I Never Told You, Ng’s excellent debut, the book plots its way into a smart, accessible conversation about race and class. But free of the restraints of Everything’s thriller construction, Little Fires gives Ng the space and patience to confront how progressive-minded communities approach identity.” –GQ.com
“[A] suspenseful, tense tale.” —W Magazine
“[Ng’s] descriptions are so dead-on you can practically see the Cleveland skyline as you ride shotgun with these characters.” —Glamour
“A meditation on the unspoken pains and contradictions of motherhood. Its story unspools all the raw, knotted tensions that go into making a family…Choosing a rambling van over a 401(k) isn't a sign of delinquent parenting in Ng's universe; it's just one of a series of possible paths, with its own unique pleasures and pitfalls.” –Refinery29
“Unmissable…Ng’s psychological insight is acute, yet generous,…Little Fires Everywhere examines the cruelties that we unwittingly inflict on those we claim to love.” ―Claire Fallon, HuffPost’s Best Fiction Books of 2017
“Takes unerring aim at upper-middle-class America’s blind spots…a nuanced study of mothers and daughters and the burden of not belonging to our families or our communities.” — Vogue
“Totally absorbing, each character drawn so well it makes it impossible to decide whose side you’re on.” — Marie Claire
“Ng writes with the wisdom of a hundred lives lived, churning out complex characters mostly sympathetic, sometimes loathsome, but all startlingly human.” —HarpersBazaar.com
“Fans of novelist Celeste Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, and devotees of her resistance-ready Twitter feed can rejoice…The story drifts effortlessly between characters; each is full and memorable as they coax the novel to its fiery climax. Ng reminds us that action is a choice, and you’ll want to keep reading until the last irreversible actions play out.” —Bust
“Couldn’t be more timely… Little Fires Everywhere might just be the signpost that we need, pointing a way forward with the gentle suggestion that sometimes doing the right thing means breaking some rules.” –Paste
“Compelling…Little Fires Everywhere invests all of its emotional energies in the relationship between mothers and their children…in Ng’s precisely rendered perfect suburb.” –Vox
“Ng’s taut class drama is calibrated for fireworks.” –New York Magazine, Books to Read This Fall
“Written with deep empathy and vivid characters who feel true to life, Little Fires Everywhere is a captivating, insightful examination of motherhood, identity, family, privilege, perfectionism, obsession, and the secrets about ourselves we try to hide.” –Buzzfeed
“There are few modern writers as brilliant at capturing the complexities of a family as Celeste Ng…The book is smart, nuanced, and exhilarating—but more than anything, Little Fires Everywhere is a gorgeous exploration of motherhood in its many forms, and the many different paths that women travel to get there.” —Shondaland.com
“Ng’s uncanny ability to embody multiple viewpoints makes for a powerful, revelatory novel.” –BBC.com, Ten Books to Read in September
“The un-put-downable story that everyone will be talking about this Fall. A must read for book clubs.” –PopSugar
“Equal parts clever, relatable, surprising and unsettling… Ng covers a lot of ground here, from class nuance to the nature of conformity. But the story really shines when she examines complex mother-daughter relationships and how they work…until they don’t.”— PureWow
“Engrossing…Ng’s characters are authentic and complex, but it’s her confident narration that will invite readers to settle in for the ride—a storyteller who knows what she's doing is at the wheel…With each revelation, Little Fires Everywhere grows more propulsive and insightful, boring through the placid surface of American suburbia.” —Dallas Morning News
“Ng has one-upped herself with her tremendous follow-up novel… a finely wrought meditation on the nature of motherhood, the dangers of privilege and a cautionary tale about how even the tiniest of secrets can rip families apart… Ng is a master at pushing us to look at our personal and societal flaws in the face and see them with new eyes… If “Little Fires Everywhere” doesn’t give you pause and help you think differently about humanity and this country’s current state of affairs, start over from the beginning and read the book again.” San Francisco Chronicle
“The truth is messy for everyone in Little Fires Everywhere. As she did so well in Everything I Never Told You, Ng crafts sympathetic backstories for the characters that make their decisions understandable if not entirely acceptable. She also creates layered portraits, especially of the girls and women, to raise questions about what mothers can give and what their children need when no one can stick to the rules.”—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Ng’s talent for depth of story and character development shines and will stay with you long after you’ve finished the book.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Immersive and thought-provoking…Hang on and prepare to be mesmerized as you meet two families in idyllic Shaker Heights, Ohio.” —The Missourian
“A haunting, layered story of mothers and daughters, and how they attract and repel each other.” – Seattle Times
“A multilayered, tightly focused and expertly plotted narrative…A deeply impressive novel with the power to provoke and entrance.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“One of the best novels of the fall is an emotional tale about motherhood, class and so much more… Everything I Never Told You, was good, but this is better.” —AARP.org
“Mesmerizing…The result is a deftly woven plot that examines a multitude of issues, including class, wealth, artistic vision, abortion, race, prejudice and cultural privilege.” —BookPage
“Ng’s best-selling first novel Everything I Never Told You proved her deft hand at crafting family dramas with the deep-rooted tension of a thriller, a skill she puts to pitch-perfect effect in her latest entry…that is equal parts simmering and soulful.” —HarpersBazaar.com
“A quiet but powerful look at family, secrets, and running from the past. Once again, Ng has delivered a near-perfect novel.” —BookRiot
“An intricate and captivating portrait of an eerily perfect suburban town with its dark undertones not-quite-hidden from view and a powerful and suspenseful novel about motherhood…Ng explores the complexities of adoption, surrogacy, abortion, privacy, and class, questioning all the while who earns, who claims, and who loses the right to be called a mother…an impressive accomplishment.” —Publishers Weekly(starred review)
“Ng’s stunning second novel is a multilayered examination of how identities are forged and maintained, how families are formed and friendships tested, and how the notion of motherhood is far more fluid than bloodlines would suggest…[A] tour de force.”—Booklist(starred review)
“This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright… As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege. With her second novel, Ng further proves she's a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"Spectacular sophomore work...a magnificent, multilayered epic that’s perfect for eager readers and destined for major award lists." Library Journal (starred review)
"Little Fires Everywhere takes us deep into other people's homes and lives and darkest corners. Along the way, Celeste Ng is always witty, engrossing, unsparing and original." Meg Wolitzer
"Little Fires Everywhere is a dazzlingly protean work - a comedy of manners that doubles as a social novel and reads like a thriller. By turns wry, heart-rending and gimlet-eyed, it confirms Celeste Ng's genius for gripping literary fiction." Peter Ho Davies, author of The Fortunes
"As if it wasn't totally obvious from her stunning first novel, Little Fires Everywhere showcases what makes Celeste Ng such a masterful writer. The way she examines the complexity of place, and the people who inhabit that place, is some of the most virtuosic, compelling, and wise storytelling that I've seen in a long time. By looking so closely at this community, she opens up the entire world, and it's an amazing experience." Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang and Perfect Little World
"Yes, it's the story of one Ohio town, but Little Fires Everywhere is not that familiar tale of the underside of the American suburb. It's a powerful work about parenthood and politics, adolescent strife and artistic ambition, and the stark choice between conformity and community. Celeste Ng possesses the remarkable ability to write about the most serious of subjects with the lightest possible touch." Rumaan Alam, author of Rich and Pretty
"I cracked open this book mid-morning and did not even move again until it was time to turn on a light. What a joy it was to be so thoroughly taken, to let the chores and clocks and even my own breathing stop while I raced through these pages. Celeste Ng once again proves she is a force to be reckoned with. Little Fires Everywhere is a deft, smoldering masterpiece." Mira Jacob, author of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
"As I read Celeste Ng's second novel I found myself thinking, again and again: how does she know so much? About all of us? How does she write with such perception, such marvelous grace, such daring and generosity? Little Fires Everywhere has the irresistible pace of an expertly tuned thriller, and the observational brilliance of lasting literature. It marks Celeste Ng as a writer of the first rank, among the very best in her generation - right there with Zadie Smith and Jacqueline Woodson. I was mad for this book." Joe Hill, author of The Fireman and Heart-Shaped Box
“I was fascinated, not to mention worried about, and frightened of and for, these intriguing characters. Celeste Ng is a powerful and poignant writer whose attention to detail is pitch-perfect. Her intuitive rendering of how and why people behave in such unflattering ways is important. Her writing is honest and richand I love how little fires spread here until they're put out.” - Terry McMillan, author of I Almost Forgot About YouFrom the Publisher
★ 06/01/2017Library Journal
The morning after Mia and daughter Pearl return the rental key in the Richardsons' mailbox, the youngest Richardson, Izzy, sets "little fires everywhere," destroying the family home. Following her magnificent debut, Everything I Never Told You, Ng's spectacular sophomore work again manipulates time (revealing the implosions backward) and perspectives (privileging the reader through multiple narrators). In Shaker Heights, OH, a pristine suburb where "there were rules, many rules," wealthy wife and mother of four Elena Richardson writes "terribly nice" articles for the local paper. Her tenants, Mia and Pearl, nomads who finally plan to "stay put," are soon integrated into the Richardsons' sprawling lives: teenager Pearl becomes like a fifth child, artist Mia something more than a part-time housekeeper. When Elena's close friend adopts an abandoned Chinese baby whose birth mother's return causes a community rift over custody, Elena and Mia find themselves on polarizing sides. "Everything…beautiful and perfect on the outside" crumbles, observes Izzy, the family's barometer of truth about identity, parent/child bonds, and most of all, love. The consequences will be devastating and illuminating. VERDICT Shaker Heights native Ng writes what she knows into a magnificent, multilayered epic that's perfect for eager readers and destined for major award lists. [See Prepub Alert, 3/27/17.]—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC
★ 11/01/2017School Library Journal
Shaker Heights, a wealthy suburb of Cleveland, is home to the mostly content Richardson family of six. Mia, an artist, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, decide to settle down and rent an apartment from the family. Pearl bonds with the Richardson teens, and life seems idyllic until a custody battle erupts. Elena Richardson's friend is adopting a baby whose biological mother, a friend of Mia's, regrets her decision to abandon the child. Ng sensitively examines adoption, privilege, and race as the well-off white couple and the child's biological mother, a Chinese immigrant who initially gave up the child out of financial necessity, fight for parental rights. Through Mia, the author also explores the sacrifices that artists must make and the tension between passion and parenthood. An unwanted teen pregnancy and long-held secrets add to the impact of this emotional story peopled by sympathetic characters. VERDICT For fans of thought-provoking literary works, especially those who enjoyed Ng's first novel, Everything I Never Told You.—Karlan Sick, formerly at New York Public Library
★ 2017-06-20Kirkus Reviews
This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.It's not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with "protection forever against…unwelcome change" and "a rather happy life" in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family's rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school-age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when "the bug" hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the "little fires everywhere" that will consume the Richardsons' secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege. With her second novel, Ng further proves she's a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.