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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

What makes someone a mother? Is it biology alone? Or is it love? This is one of the themes of Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere. Already an acclaimed novelist for her previous work Everything I Never Told You, which went on to win a ton of literary awards, Celeste Ng once again reveals that her writing is on par with any of the other renowned literary CanLit authors. She knows how to weave a tale beautifully with characters that speak to the depths of your soul. She draws you in with her stories of family and relationships, and makes you wish that you never have to leave.

The story in Little Fires Everywhere centres around Shaker Heights. A community in progressive Cleveland, where everything is orderly. There are rules. And rules were put there to keep the citizens in harmony. At least that's what Elena Richardson believes. She's the matriarch of the Richardson family with four kids, Trip, Moody, Lexie and Izzy. This is a tight knit suburban family, living the American dream. 

Then a newbie comes to town. Mia and her fifteen-year-old daughter Pearl, who rent a house on Winslow Road from the Richardsons. Mia is an artist, whose past is an enigma. Reclusive at first, Mia and Pearl soon find themselves ingrained in the Richardson household, with Mia working as a housekeeper for them, and Pearl becoming best friends with Moody and by extension the rest of the Richardson children. 

For the longest time since Pearl can remember, Mia and her have been nomads of sorts, moving from one place to another. In all her years, Mia had adhered to one rule: Don't get attached. Since Pearl's birth, they had been in about forty-six towns, moving with whatever would fit into their Volkswagen. Whenever they moved, there was no forwarding address, no ties. It was a fresh new start. Pearl got used to this lifestyle, but when they got to Shaker Heights, Mia had assured Pearl that they would attempt to anchor some roots here. 

Mia's an artist. When Moody began to hang around Pearl more, he began to learn more about Mia's art, and the "intricacies and vagaries of the Warren family finances". Moody had never really needed to think or worry about money. When they moved into Shaker Heights, Mia got a job at Lucky Palace, a local Chinese restaurant, several afternoons and evenings a week. When there was extra food, Mia took a few containers home, which sustained her and her daughter for a whole week. 

They'd lived this way for years. To Pearl this was the norm. She always attributed it to her mom being an artist. She understood that the part time jobs was just a way for Mia to earn some money, but focus on her real love -- her art. Pearl had grown up knowing that her mom's real work was her art. 

"For Mia, Moody learned, did not consider herself a photographer. Photography, at its heart, was about documentation, and he soon understood that for Mia photography was simply a tool, which she used as a painter might use a brush or a knife." 

But Mia's life is not completely transparent. She has a secret; one she's trying desperately to run from. But can you really outrun your past? Especially when someone is on a mission to uncover the truth. When old family friends of the Robertsons are caught in a custody battle to adopt their Chinese-American baby, the community of Shaker Heights is divided. Should the child go over to her Chinese birth mother who abandoned her, or to the couple who took her in and will give her a wonderful life? These discussions also tear the Richardson household. Half their kids are on the birth mother's side, while the remainder are convinced that the baby is better off with the family that took her in. Mrs Robertson uses her investigation skills to find out the truth. Or rather, the any incriminating evidence that she can to help her friend keep her child. Her first target is Mia. She's sure Mia is hiding something. It seems to Mrs Robertson that Mia doesn't care what people thought of her, which in her mind made Mia very dangerous. 

Identity is another topic that looms throughout the novel. Whether it's Pearl's father, or Mia's , there is a curiosity (or obsession) to get to the bottom of origins. Who do we belong to? 

The story twists and turns between the trials and tribulations of the Richardson children (and Pearl) and the adult dramas that ensue with the arrival of a surprise little package. Will this little joy be the destruction of an entire family? 

The moral of the story? Our decisions can start a small spark that can eventually turn into a fire. 

A tender story that's riveting to the end. A must-read fall favourite. Celeste Ng is one of those literary geniuses that is able to infuse a new class of literary spark into the American stratosphere.