Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
First Paragraph (it's a long one):
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 the 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.
I found this book to be quite, quite good. Sometimes, the second book by an author has a hard time living up to the first, especially if a reader was a big fan of the debut book. I did indeed like Celeste Ng's first book, Everything I Never Told You, and led a group discussion of it. It made for great book talk among the group, but I'm thinking that Little Fires Everywhere might be even more discussion-worthy. What did I like? Most of the characters, though all were flawed and made decisions that had repercussions and consequences. I was happy that we saw each character grow and change - they all learned something. The Richardson family was comfortable and privileged and rather entitled, whether they realized it or not. When Mia and Pearl came into their lives, all were affected. The issues presented were complicated in many ways and simple in others. Mothers and daughters - adoption and the rights of birth mothers - should you always follow the rules and will doing so make your life 'perfect' or are rules meant to be broken - what is art and how about artists that 'color outside the lines'. Lots to think about as this story, set in a town in Ohio that considers itself the 'perfect' community, unrolls and unravels. I think that Celeste Ng is a very talented writer and I very much look forward to reading whatever book she shares with us next.
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.