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

For three weeks in April 2020, Little Fires Everywhere was #1 on The New York Times fiction best-seller list, concurrent with the release of a television adaptation of the book.


The story starts in 1998 where the Richardson home in Shaker Heights, Ohio catches fire. Arson is suspected, as there were multiple small fires.

The previous year, 1997, Elena Richardson rents her rental home on Winslow Road to Mia Warren, an artist, and her teenage daughter, Pearl. Elena's younger son, Moody, who is Pearl's age, develops a crush on Pearl and becomes friends with her. Through Moody, Pearl meets the rest of the Richardson siblings: Lexie, Trip, and Izzy. Pearl, who is used to a transient lifestyle in which her mother scrapes together money, is charmed by the Richardsons and their established home. She spends time every day at their home, develops a crush on Trip, and idolizes Lexie.

Mia works part-time at a Chinese restaurant called the Lucky Palace and sells photographs through a dealer named Anita Rees in New York. She becomes concerned about Pearl's idealization of the Richardsons. When Elena condescendingly offers her a job doing housekeeping for her family, she agrees only to keep an eye on Pearl. She meets Izzy, the black sheep of the family, and the two become close.

The Richardsons are invited to the birthday party of Mirabelle Rose McCullough, the adopted daughter of Elena's friends, Linda and Mark. After talking with Bebe Chow, a coworker at Lucky Palace, Mia learns that the child is actually named May Ling Chow and is Bebe's daughter, whom she left at a firehouse in the middle of a postpartum episode and economic hardship. Bebe has been looking for her child for over a year. Bebe is despondent as she has no money for lawyers. Mia advises her to get the local news involved. The scandal results in Bebe getting visitation rights and help from an Asian lawyer named Edward Lim pro bono.

Elena discovers that Bebe learned of her child's whereabouts through Mia. Angry on behalf of her friend, she investigates Mia's past. She tracks down Mia's parents and learns that Pearl was conceived by Mia for a wealthy New York couple named Joseph and Madeline Ryan who were unable to have children of their own. Mia could not face the idea of giving up her child. She told the couple that she miscarried and ran away with Pearl; 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. Pearl takes Lexie back to her mom's house, and Mia cares for Lexie while keeping the abortion a secret from the rest of the Richardson family. Pearl and Trip begin to have sex, which they keep a secret from everyone. When Moody discovers what's going on, he and Pearl stop speaking. Elena investigates a suspicion that Bebe had an abortion and, to her shock, discovers Pearl is listed as having had one. She confronts Moody about being the father, but he tells her she is accusing the wrong son.

Bebe Chow loses her case and Mia comforts her. Elena confronts Mia about finding Pearl's name at the abortion clinic, and asks Mia to move out. Pearl is reluctant to go, but when Mia reveals the truth about her family and Pearl's father, Pearl gains a deeper understanding for her mother, and agrees to leave Shaker Heights. Izzy realizes that Moody, Lexie, and Trip have all used Pearl in their own way and becomes angry at them. She attempts to visit the Warrens, but finds the rental home vacant. Choosing a moment when they are all out of the house, she pours gasoline on each of her siblings' beds, not realizing that her mother is still in the house. She lights the fires and leaves.

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 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 thousands of dollars searching for them. Eventually, they are approved to adopt a baby from China. Mia and Pearl hit the road, planning to reconnect with Mia's family and Pearl's father. 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 realizes 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 third-generation resident of Shaker Heights who writes for the local paper and lives a wealthy lifestyle with her husband and four children.
  • Bill Richardson: A prominent lawyer who is married to Elena Richardson.
  • Alexandra "Lexie" Richardson: The oldest Richardson child. She is a senior in high school and plans on attending Yale.
  • Bill "Trip" Richardson III: The second Richardson child. He is a junior in high school who is popular and plays sports.
  • Michael "Moody" Richardson: The third Richardson child. He is a sophomore in high school and befriends Pearl Warren.
  • Isabelle "Izzy" Richardson: The youngest Richardson child. She is a freshman in high school and rejects the Richardson’s' wealthy lifestyle.

The Warren Family

  • Mia Warren: A photographer who she specializes in unique prints. She has lived a transient lifestyle for her daughter Pearl's entire life. She rents her home in Shaker Heights from Elena Richardson and works as her housekeeper. She also works at a Chinese restaurant.
  • Pearl Warren: Mia's daughter who is a sophomore in high school. She does not know who her father is.


  • Linda McCullough: A childhood friend of Elena's who adopted an abandoned baby after years of fertility struggles.
  • Mark McCullough: Linda's husband.
  • Mirabelle McCullough/May Ling Chow: The infant who was abandoned by Bebe Chow and adopted by Linda and Mark McCullough.
  • Bebe Chow: Mia's co-worker at the Chinese restaurant. She wants her abandoned baby back from the McCullough’s.
  • Brian: Lexie Richardson’s boyfriend who is African American.


Ng is from Shaker Heights, Ohio, where the book is set.[2] She said that after being away from Shaker Heights for ten years, she "appreciated more all the ways Shaker Heights is unusual, and [she] wanted to try and write a story that would explore some of those facets of the community."[2]

She chose to include the transracial adoption in the novel because it's an issue that touches on class, race, and motherhood simultaneously.[3] In an interview for BLARB, she said, "Many adoptions today are transracial, which raises really complicated questions about how we handle and talk about race—and racial bias—in America."[3]


Writing for The Guardian, Lionel Shriver found the book "extremely well done and yet [she] didn't warm to it".[4]

In a review for the San Francisco Chronicle, Alexis Burling called it "… 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…"[5]

The book was the winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards for Fiction in 2017.[6]

Television adaptation[edit]

A television miniseries adaptation of the novel was executive produced by Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington for Hulu with an 8-episode order.[7] 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.[8]


  1. ^ Simon, Scott. "A Mother And Daughter Upset Suburban Status Quo In 'Little Fires Everywhere' Listen· 7:12". Retrieved January 23, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b Avila, Pamela. "Disruption for Change: An Interview with Celeste Ng". BLARB. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Avila, Pamela. "Disruption for Change: An Interview with Celeste Ng". BLARB. Retrieved November 16, 2020.
  4. ^ Shriver, Lionel (November 12, 2017). "Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng – review". The Guardian. Retrieved January 23, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Burling, Alexis (September 28, 2017). "'Little Fires Everywhere,' by Celeste Ng". SFGATE. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  6. ^ "Little Fires Everywhere". Retrieved November 13, 2020.
  7. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 12, 2018). "Hulu Nabs Little Fires Everywhere' Limited Series Starring Reese Witherspoon & Kerry Washington". Retrieved March 12, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 3, 2018). "Reese Witherspoon & Kerry Washington To Star In Limited Series Based On 'Little Fires Everywhere' Book For ABC Signature". Retrieved March 3, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

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