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.
My Thoughts: A beautiful and layered story, Little Fires Everywhere brought out themes of family dynamics, family secrets, and small town life.
Elena Richardson, at the heart of the novel, stands in direct opposition to her tenant, Mia Warren, a single mother and artist: a woman with a nomadic lifestyle and a beautiful daughter Pearl. Their values could not be more different, and when Mia seems to tug at the center of Elena’s family, inexplicably pulling some of her children to her, Elena digs in and starts searching for the dirt she knows is hidden behind Mia’s freewheeling façade.
Izzy, the youngest and most troubled of the Richardson children, gravitates toward Mia, where she finds the acceptance she craves and which is not there for her at home.
Even Lexie, Trip, and Moody, the other Richardson children, soon find something they want in the Warren household. Now it seems as though Mia is the “Pied Piper” for the teens, showing them options they had not considered. She does it all calmly and without intent. It is the pull of the appealing life choices that are anathema in their own family.
The fires of desire and independence are burning amongst the teens, and in the broader life of the community, the town lights up with the burning furor of a custody fight between an upper middle class family and the Asian birth mother who made a mistake. Abandonment, some town members cry out, but advocates for Bebe claim she made the “safe choice” when she couldn’t care for her baby and left her at the fire station.