In Shaker Heights, the Richardson family lives a comfortable life. They rent out their rental home to Mia and her daughter, Pearl. Mia and her daughter turn out to be interesting people, someone Mrs. Richardson can’t stop thinking about. She begins to obsessively hunt for clues about Mia’s life, determined to find out more.
When Mia and Pearl arrive in Shaker Heights, they become the objects of interest in the Richardson’s eyes. The kids become friends with Pearl, and Mia even offers the kid’s advice in turn.
Mia works at a minimum wage job, but her real work is the photography that she takes. She became interested in photography and cameras when she was a teenager.
Pearl falls in love with Trip, and they begin sleeping together. Moody, the younger brother, secretly likes Pearl. The two are friends, but nothing more.
Mrs. Richardson steadily becomes obsessed with Mia. She’s determined to figure out this woman’s secrets, even going so far as to contact the other woman’s parents. She visits their home, and learns more secrets about Mia’s real identity.
In the middle of all of this, Little Fires Everywhere addresses a tough question: When is a mother a mother?
A Chinese woman named Bebe Chow, suffering financial struggles and postpartum depression, leaves her infant daughter at the fire station. When her daughter is found, she’s put up for adoption. One of Mrs. Richardson’s wealthy friends adopts the child. They give her an American name, not even bothering to call her by her real birth name–May Ling Chow.
Bebe, who has looked for her daughter for more than a year, is overjoyed when Mia finds out where May Ling is living. Bebe, who has no money, Mia urges her to get the local news involved. The news coverage gets wind of an Asian lawyer, Edward Lim, who decides to take on Bebe’s case pro bono.
The news gets back to Mrs. Richardson, who on behalf of her friend, is furious. She begins to look into Mia’s past.
Mrs. Richardson learns the truth about Pearl’s birth. She also learns about Mia’s brother’s death. Her snooping–her investigating–leads her to believe that Pearl got an abortion, when really it was her daughter Lexie. (Lexie used an alias, so that her mother wouldn’t find out it was her.)
Mia’s past was kept hidden because she didn’t want Pearl to know the real reason why she came into existence. She was offered the chance to help a couple in need, who were having trouble conceiving. Mia, after considering her options, decided to follow through with the conception. One of the reasons she went through with it was because there was money involved.
But, as time went on, Mia became attached to Pearl growing inside of her. Finally, unable to give the baby up, Mia left.
She had Pearl and began her new life.
Lexie, the black sheep of the family, becomes good friends with Mia. She learns that sometimes you just have to make little fires sometimes, everywhere you go. Choosing a moment when her family is out of the house, she sets fire to her own home. She does this because she realizes that her siblings have all used Pearl in one way or another.
Lexie leaves Shaker Heights, once and for all. She begins her life over.
Mia and Pearl leave as well, but not before Mia leaves artful gifts for each of the Richardsons.
Bebe Chow–who lost the custody battle–steals her daughter away in the middle of the night, taking her with back to China.
Mrs. Richardson vows to search for her daughter, much like Bebe searched for hers, for the rest of her life.
I actually was surprised by how much I liked this novel. I knew a little about the book, but hadn’t read until last year.
Little Fires Everywhere is about how we treat people, the meaning of motherhood, and how we treat people who are outcasts. Celeste Ng talks about race, and brings to light tough issues like regaining custody after letting go of a child.
Little Fires Everywhere is a novel that makes you think, and one that stays with you long after you finish it.