‘Little Fires Everywhere’ exposes secrets in a small town

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Celeste Ng’s first novel, “Everything I Never Told You,” captivated me for days after I read it, trying to deconstruct the unsaid words that lead to the main character’s death. I was anxiously awaiting her second novel, “Little Fires Everywhere,” and was happy to score an advance reading copy to indulge in at the beach.

The book is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a planned community of upper middle-class residents. Elena Richardson’s family is torn apart after Mia Warren and her teenage daughter, Pearl, move into a rental home owned by Elena. Mia has a mysterious past and doesn’t fit in with the Stepford-like families in Shaker Heights.

Soon, little fires start appearing everywhere – literally and figuratively as the Richardson’s home goes up in flames. The town just assumed it was Izzy Richardson, the black sheep of the family, who set the fire. But the Richardson house fire wasn’t the only one burning in town that summer.

Nearly a year ago, an Asian infant, May Ling Chow, is left at a fire station, abandoned by a mother who couldn’t care for her. May Ling is fostered by the wealthy McCullough family, who are intent on adopting her. But May Ling’s birth mother has a change of heart and wants to get her daughter back and the legal fight begins to tear the town apart.

Elena and Mia are on opposite sides of the custody battle and Elena becomes obsessed with uncovering Mia’s guarded past. Secrets surround everyone in the town and the little fires are everywhere, with no sign of being put out.

Family secrets are at the heart of Ng’s novels, and the mothering styles of both Elena and Mia can be criticized. Issues of social class, identity and pride are brought to the forefront as the town struggles to decide the fate of little May Ling/Mirabelle McCullough.

Unlike “Everything I Never Told You,” there is hope in this book that the fires will be extinguished, and a resolution of the pain that comes from keeping decades-long secrets.

This is a solid follow-up to Ng’s debut and is sure to keep her on many “must read” lists this fall. “Little Fires Everywhere” is available to buy now.

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