Sometimes when a book gets a lot of buzz, I hold off on reading it because inevitably I’m disappointed. So I never read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, her debut novel. This is her sophomore effort, and it is a wonderful read; so wonderful, I just downloaded her debut onto my iPad.
The title literally refers to small fires set on all the beds in the Richardson household. The book opens with the fire, and the house burning to the ground, but the family are all safe. I think the title also refers to all the little fires that families and friends have to put out every day, the misunderstandings both big and small. And maybe the baby that was abandoned at the fire station. It is an excellent and thought provoking title.
The Richardson family lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which claims to be the first planned community in the United States and is a suburb of Cleveland. Elena Richardson grew up there and convinced her fiancé there would be no better place to raise a family. He’s a lawyer and she is a planner of lives; the house, her career, and four children in quick succession. The first three were a dream, Trip, the oldest boy, a teenage heartthrob, both good looking and charming; Lexie, the oldest girl, a bright student and a popular, pretty girl; Moody, the other son, more of a loner than his big brother, and finally Izzie, the baby and the most difficult. Izzie was a difficult pregnancy, a premie with complications who came with warnings of a lifetime of possible health issues, none of which came to bear. Nonetheless, Elena and Izzie’s relationship is rough. Izzie is headstrong and outspoken and happily breaks rules right and left, something Elena abhors and causes her grief on a regular basis.
The Richardsons live in a big house in the affluent end of town, and own a small two-family rental nearby. Elena only rents to those who she feels is deserving of this place, and when single mom Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl move in, Elena feels like she has given them a helping hand. Mia is an artist whose medium is photography, and the two of them have lived like nomads throughout Pearl’s life. But here in Shaker Heights, Mia promises that they will stay so Pearl makes friends, first with Moody and Lexie, and then she falls for Trip.
Elena hires Mia for a few hours a day to clean the house and prepare dinner, and pays her enough to cover her rent. As Pearl becomes more and more comfortable in the Richardson household, Izzie becomes intrigued with Mia and begs to be allowed to be her assistant. Mia acquiesces, and they form a strong bond.
These two families find themselves on opposite sides when Elena’s closest friend ends up in an adoption war. After fourteen years of trying for a baby, they finally get a beautiful Chinese infant who was abandoned at a fire station. The adoption process is long, and shortly before it will be finalized, Mia learns about the baby and realizes that she knows the birth mother who deeply regretted leaving the baby. She tells her, all hell breaks loose and the town and the media all get involved There can be no happy ending here.
Ng has created a world of believable characters, none of whom is perfect. This is a compelling story that is driven by these characters and was unputdownable. I really loved the writing and highlighted several passages. Some samples:
All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control.
Maybe at birth everyone should be given to a family of another race to be raised. Maybe that would solve racism once and for all.
And probably my favorite, on learning how to deal with your teenage children as they pull away from you:
It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core and all.
I can’t wait to share this book with my book discussion group. Don’t miss it.
9/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng. Penguin Press; 1st Edition edition (September 12, 2017). ISBN 978-0735224292. 352p.