Little Fires Everywhere (novel)

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Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere.jpg
AuthorCeleste Ng
CountryUnited States
PublisherPenguin Press

Little Fires Everywhere is a 2017 novel by American author Celeste Ng. It is her second novel and takes place in Shaker Heights, Ohio where Ng grew up. She described writing about her hometown as "a little bit like writing about a relative. You see all of the great things about them, you love them dearly, and yet you also know all of their quirks and their foibles."[1]

The novel is about two families living in 1990s Shaker Heights who are brought together through their children.


In 1998, the Richardson home catches fire. Arson is suspected, as there were multiple small fires. The Richardson children believe that the arsonist was their sister, Izzy.

One year previously, in 1997, Elena Richardson rents the upstairs portion of her rental home across town to Mia Warren, an artist, and her teenage daughter, Pearl. Elena's younger son, the teenage Moody, bikes by the house and meets Pearl, who is his own age, and develops a crush on her. Pearl and Moody quickly become friends and he introduces her to his siblings, Lexie, Trip and Izzy. Pearl, who is used to a transient lifestyle in which her mother scrapes together money, becomes charmed by the Richardsons and their established home. She spends time every day at the Richardson home, and she develops a crush on Trip and comes to idolize Lexie.

Mia works part-time at a Chinese restaurant and sells carefully composed photographs through a dealer in New York. She eventually becomes concerned about Pearl's idealization of the Richardsons. When Elena condescendingly offers her a job doing light housekeeping for her family, Mia agrees, only to keep an eye on Pearl. She ends up meeting Izzy, the black sheep of the family, when Izzy is home on suspension after defending a classmate who was the target of a teacher's racist comments. Mia suggests that Izzy do something about it and ends up giving Izzy the idea to jam all the locks in the school. Because of this, Izzy ends up becoming close to Mia and offering to work as her assistant.

The Richardsons are invited to the birthday party of Mirabelle McCullough, the adopted daughter of one of Elena's friends. Lexie is enraptured by the little girl and the story of how she was discovered abandoned at a fire station. She tells the story to Mia, who realizes that the child is May Ling Chow, the daughter of Bebe Chow, Mia's co-worker at the Chinese restaurant, who gave up her child in the middle of a postpartum episode and economic hardship. Bebe has been looking for her child for over a year. Mia informs Bebe of her daughter's whereabouts, though the McCulloughs refuse to let her see her daughter and threaten her with trespassing. Bebe is despondent as she has no money for lawyers, but Mia advises her to get the local news involved, which she does successfully. The local scandal results in Bebe getting visitation rights and help from a lawyer working pro bono.

Elena discovers that Bebe discovered that her child was with the McCulloughs through Mia. Angry on behalf of her friends, and also agitated by Mia's secretive nature, she begins investigating Mia's past. Through a vague photograph of Mia found in a museum, she manages to eventually track down Mia's parents. Through them she learns that Pearl was conceived by Mia for a wealthy New York couple who were unable to have children of their own. After her brother's death and her family's disappointment, she could not face the idea of giving up a child that was half hers. She told the couple that she miscarried and ran away. Soon after, Pearl was born, and Mia's parents hadn't heard from her since.

Lexie gets pregnant and asks Pearl to come with her to get an abortion. Afraid of being discovered, Lexie uses Pearl's name at the clinic. When Pearl takes Lexie home to recuperate after the abortion, they are met by Mia, who takes care of Lexie and is sympathetic towards her. Pearl acts on her crush on Trip and the two begin to have sex in his friend's basement, which they keep a secret from everyone—including Moody and Trip's friend. Pearl arranges to be alone with Trip at her home. When Moody sees the two leaving while holding hands, he realizes what's been going on, and he and Pearl stop speaking.

The trial between the McCulloughs and Bebe Chow goes forward, but even Mr. Richardson, who is arguing on behalf of the state and therefore the McCulloughs, begins to feel torn about the case. Elena, still eager to help her friend, investigates a suspicion that Bebe has had an abortion and, to her shock, discovers that Pearl is listed as having had one. She goes to confront Moody about being the father, but he tells her that she is accusing the wrong son, a statement which is overheard by Izzy.

Bebe Chow loses her case. She goes to Mia's house for comfort, and Mia tells Bebe that her daughter will always be her own. Shortly after, Elena arrives and tells Mia she knows about Pearl's origins before telling her she must move out. Though she is doing so because she thinks Pearl has had an abortion, her oblique references are lost on Mia. Nevertheless, Mia goes to Pearl's school and tells her they must move on. Pearl is reluctant to go, but Mia explains about her biological father and she reluctantly accepts. Before they leave, Mia runs into Izzy. Unable to say goodbye, Mia tries to explain her actions by using a metaphor about prairie fires.

Eventually, Izzy manages to put the pieces of Mia and Pearl's disappearance together. She also realizes that Moody, Lexie, and Trip have all used Pearl in their own way and becomes angry at them. Choosing a moment when they are all out of the house, she starts small fires on everyone's beds—not realizing that her mother was still in the house, though Elena manages to escape the fire unharmed. After the fire, the Richardsons go to the rental home, now vacated by the Warrens, where they find that Mia has left them with photographs and negatives that have personal significance to each of them.

Bebe Chow, using Mia's words as inspiration, sneaks into the McCulloughs' home and kidnaps her daughter, flying with her to Canton. The McCulloughs unsuccessfully spend tens of thousands of dollars searching for them. Eventually, the McCulloughs are approved to adopt a baby from China, though always mourning the loss of Mirabelle. Mia and Pearl hit the open road, planning to reconnect with Mia's family and Pearl's father sometime in the future. Izzy runs away to Pittsburgh with the name of Mia's parents, promising herself that if she is caught and returned, she will continue to run away until she is never forced to come back again. Elena is left realizing that her greatest fear, losing Izzy, has come true, and vows to spend the rest of her life looking for her daughter.

Main characters[edit]

The Richardson Family

  • Elena Richardson - A 3rd generation resident of Shaker Heights who writes for the local paper
  • Bill Richardson - A prominent lawyer
  • Lexie Richardson - The oldest Richardson child who is a senior in high school
  • Trip Richardson - The second oldest Richardson child who is a jock
  • Moody Richardson - A well-meaning and kind person. He is the one who introduces Pearl to his family and develops a crush on her
  • Izzy Richardson - The black sheep of the family who rejects the Richardsons upper-middle class lifestyle

The Warrens

  • Mia Warren - A photographer who specializes in unique prints. She has lived a transient lifestyle for Pearl's entire life and refuses to tell her who her father is
  • Pearl Warren - Mia's daughter who is the same age as Moody

Bebe Chow

  • Mia's co-worker, who wants her abandoned baby back from the McCulloughs

The McCullough Family

  • Linda McCullough - A childhood friend of Elena's
  • Mirabelle McCullough/May Ling Chow - Her adopted infant daughter*


Writing for The Guardian, Lionel Shriver found the book "extremely well done and yet [she] didn’t warm to it".[2]

The book was voted as the winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards for fiction in 2017.[3] It was also Amazon's Best Novel of 2017.

Television adaptation[edit]

A television miniseries adaptation of the novel has been executive produced by Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington for Hulu with an 8-episode order.[4] Witherspoon and Washington are also starring in it. Liz Tigelaar is set to be the showrunner and executive producer. Ng is set to be a producer as well.[5]


External links[edit]