“Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer; how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.” This is the first line in Little Fires Everywhere and the rest of the novel explains how the Richardsons ended up losing their fancy Parkland Rd., Shaker Heights home.
The novel revolves around the Richardson family and by extension to the lives of their Winslow Road tenants, Mia and Pearl Warren, and the custody battle of the Richardsons’ friends, the McCulloughs. The lives of the three groups intersect in unlikely ways.
Mia and her daughter Pearl arrive in Shaker Heights with everything they own in Mia’s beat up VW, and they rent half of a duplex from Elena Richardson. The Richardsons are the perfect family. Mrs. Richardson is a reporter for the Sun Times and Mr. Richardson is a successful lawyer. They have three children, four of whom would appear to be perfect–Lexie, a beautiful and popular high school senior, Trip, a good looking high school junior, and Moody a thoughtful and intelligent high school sophomore. The fourth child, Izzy, is another matter. She is irreverent, strong and opinionated.
Mia Warren is an artist, a photographer with an eye for scene, and an ability to sell her art through an agent in New York. Mia and Pearl never stay in one place for too long. As Pearl explained to Moody: “We move around a lot. Whenever my mom gets the bug.” Mia intends, however, to stay in Shaker Heights so that Pearl can finish high school.
Moody Richardson becomes obsessed with Pearl and Pearl spends most of her free time at the Richardson house, effectively becoming a member of the Richardson family. Lexie also befriends Pearl, and Pearl becomes romantically attached to Trip. In the meantime, Izzy becomes attached to Mia and helps her with her photography, while Mia becomes a housekeeper for Mr. And Mrs. Richardson. It’s all very incestuous.
Mrs. Richardson’s best friend, Linda McCullough, is unable to have children, but has had the good fortune to be given the care of an Asian infant who was abandoned at a fire station. But in a change of heart, the infant’s mother has decided she wants the baby back and of course, the mother and Mia are friends. Who is Mrs. McCullough’s attorney in the ensuing custody battle? Why Mr. Richardson, of course.
Mrs. Richardson is enraged that Mia has taken the mother’s side in the custody fight. When the Richardson children discover a photograph of Mia hanging in the Cleveland Museum of Art, taken by a famous photographer, Mrs. Richardson has all she needs to put her journalistic skills to work, dig into Mia’s history and discover the past life she is hiding.
The novel tackles privilege, interracial dating, teen sex, racial issues and jealousy and alienation. Unfortunately, none of the characters are likeable or sympathetic and the storytelling is mean spirited, smug, humorless and immature. The references to Shaker Heights are kind of fun at first but after a while become annoyingly predictable and the blatant foreshadowing throughout the book is simply irritating. The novel seems to be getting some positive press and the only thing I can think of is that it is intended for teens and not adults.
If you still want to read this second novel by this former Shaker Heights resident, you can reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11263312__Slittle%20fires%20everywhere__P0%2C4__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold