burn, baby, burn

Mrs. Richardson has an orderly life. She's lived her whole life in Shaker Heights, an exquisitely well planned Midwestern city. There are a lot of rules--there are only three styles of houses that can be built there, and each house style can only be painted certain colors. The main roads of the town are positioned in a way that no elementary school child has to cross a major road to get to school. Lawns have to be cared for, trash cans stay hidden, and you can leave your door unlocked. 

In this utopia, Mrs. Richardson and her husband have raised four teenagers. Lexie is looking at Ivy League colleges for after her senior year. Trip is a varsity athlete. Moody makes top grades and writes music. And Izzy, well, Izzy is passionate and confident in ways that are unusual for a teenager. Mr. Richardson is a successful attorney, and Mrs. Richardson is a successful journalist for the local paper. It may not be a major newspaper in a large metropolitan city, but she had to make sacrifices for her family. And she's happy. Her family is healthy and happy, and that's what matters most. 

And then Mia Warren shows up. Mia, an artist whose photography is striking and building in popularity. She too has a teenaged daughter, Pearl, who is smart and confident. Mia and Pearl move around a lot, Mia chasing her artist's muse from city to city, idea to idea. And Pearl has learned to adjust to this life. They don't have much, but they know how to make a lot from a little. They are survivors. More than that, they are thrivers. As a single mother, Mia has been through some tough times, but she's had the support of a world-class photographer as a mentor and strong strength of character to keep her going. 

Now Mia and Pearl have rented a small apartment from Mrs. Richardson, a rental home that her parents had bought and passed on to her, and Mia has promised that they won't be moving anymore. Pearl is happy to enjoy her high school years in the same town, in the same school, with the same friends. 

Pearl makes friends with Moody first. They're in the same classes at school, and they're both smart, so it was an easy friendship for them both. And as Pearl spends more time at the Richardson house, she becomes friends with Lexie, and then Trip, and then Izzy. As the relationships start to intertwine, the families blur until it's hard to know who belongs to whom. The characters start to question what it is that makes a woman a mother, and what makes her a good mother, as these two mothers and their children rub against each other like twigs on a pile of kindling. 

Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere became an instant bestseller, instant leader of all the best-book lists, instant must-have of 2017. And I will add my tiny voice to all the other voices telling people to read this book. I had trouble finding time to read all the books on my kindle, so I bought the audiobook and ended up listening to it in two days. The story was so beautiful that I just couldn't turn it off. Little Fires Everywhere is both striking in its simplicity and heart-breaking in its complexity. It is lovely and moving, and it will linger in my heart, my mind, and my soul for quite awhile to come. 

That being said, there is a pregnant teenager who has an abortion, and I know that some will find that upsetting. Also, I wouldn't let any teenagers read it, at least not until they get to college, because there is an amazing prank that kind of makes me want to go back to high school to try it out myself, and that is dangerous information in the wrong hands. 

 

Galleys for Little Fires Everywhere were provided by Penguin Press through Edelweiss, with many thanks.