“Rules existed for a reason: if you followed them, you would succeed; if you didn’t, you might burn the world to the ground.”

Books on Tap had a large group and a nice mild December evening (12/2) to discuss Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng — outdoors at Champion Brewing Company.  The novel takes place over one year in 1997/98 Shaker Heights, OH, where the author lived from the age of 10. The story focuses on two very different families, brought together by the friendships of their children, and touches on a wide range of themes including transracial adoption, surrogacy, motherhood, privilege, secrets, and community. 

Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl have a transient lifestyle, with Pearl knowing nothing about her father and little about her mother’s life prior to Pearl’s birth. They rent a place in Shaker Heights from Elena Richardson, a third generation resident, who lives a wealthy lifestyle with her husband and four children.  

Things get complicated pretty quickly for multiple reasons. Mia starts working for the Richardsons and Pearl becomes involved with the Richardson children. When close friends of the Richardsons plan to adopt an abandoned infant, the families (and community) are divided over who should have the child after the birth mother comes forward. Elena Richardson starts digging into Mia’s background and learns what she’s been hiding. And it turns out that the Richardson children have secrets of their own.

The “Little Fires” from the title is referenced a few times in the novel. In the opening scene the Richardson’s house is actually burning down, but there are various other opportunities in the plot for secrets to come to light and combust.   

The book was generally liked by the group and our discussion was wide-ranging. Readers were impressed with how the author sewed the plot together and presented the ethical and moral dilemmas the characters confronted. Whose side are you on? The group debated what makes a family — is it blood or heart/love? And the ending leaves readers to imagine what happens next with the Richardson and Warren families.

The book was adapted for a television miniseries on Hulu. Those who have seen it felt it followed the book pretty closely. 

Other books mentioned:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Books on Tap will meet on Thursday, January 6 at 7 pm, to discuss Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy. Email Krista at kfarrell@jmrl.org for more information. 

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