Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

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Any page numbers refer to the hard cover edition.

1. The story is told in a third-person omniscient point of view, ie godlike, where the narrator knows all thoughts. How did this work for you? Other well-known stories are Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Stout.

2. Which character do you think is the more central character in this novel? Mia? Elena Richardson? Izzy? Pearl? Who? And why do you feel this way?

3. Izzy is mentioned in the opening sentence but we don’t meet her until pg 74. We don’t know Mrs. Richardson’s first name until pg 72 or Mr. Richardson’s until 102. At one point, we’re even told Mia’s brother, Warren, never used her full name of “Mia,” until pg 224. (How unimaginable is that? Mia…short. What did he call her?) Given that these facts came to you in drips and drizzles, did it help with keeping the characterization clearer for you?

4. I always appreciate finding the title somewhere in the story because it’s like finding a buried treasure. The title, here, appears on pg 7. However I couldn’t help thinking that if it contained a word beginning with “I,” the title’s acronym could have spelled “LIFE,” as this story represents a slice of…

5. What were your feelings about Pearl and Lexie asking Mia about the museum’s baby photograph of her by Pauline Hawthorne? Pg. 96. And what were your feelings about Mia’s parting photographs to the Richardson family?

6. How did you feel about Mia taking the job at the Richarson’s? Or how Elena handled even having Mia in the house for months once she figured out it was Mia who told Bebe? And what were your feelings about Bebe, who later stole the baby back?

7. The story cleverly knits the reader into the complexities of motherhood by either Mia keeping and running away with Pearl, Mrs. Richardson committing to search for troublesome Izzy after she’s runaway (unlike Mia’s mother), Bebe stealing May Ling after giving her away, and Lexie aborting her unborn. Although each experience is different, what does it say about the motherhood issues women face? Noting that the author did not expound on the father/male reactions, aside from a brief notation for Mia’s “donor.”

8. There’s a sentence referring to Mrs. Richardson on pg 161: “All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, is a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control.” And on the last page of the story another: “That child who she thought had been her opposite but who had, deep inside, inherited and carried and nursed that spark her mother had long ago tamped down, that same burning certainty that she knew right from wrong.” So they were very much alike!

9. Who started all these little fires everywhere? Mia? Elena Richardson? Pearl?

10. Pearl felt a “strange sense of reversal (pg 270): as if, while she and Lexie slept under the same roof, Lexie had somehow taken her place and she’d taken Lexie’s and they had not quite disentangled.” Did you feel as if this had, in fact, happened? Not only between Lexie and Pearl but also Pearl and Izzy? What about Moody and Trip? Hadn’t Pearl exchanged the company of one for the company of another?

*Discussion Questions
by Author

1. Shaker Heights is almost another character in the novel. Do you believe that “the best communities are planned”? Why or why not?

2. There are many different kinds of mother-daughter relationships in the novel. Which ones did you find most compelling? Do mothers have a unique ability to spark fires, for good and ill, in us?

3. Which of the Richardson children is most changed by the events of the novel? How do you think this time ultimately changes Lexie’s life? Trip’s? Moody’s? Izzy’s?

4. The debate over the fate of May Ling/Mirabelle is multilayered and heartbreaking. Who do you think should raise her?

5. How is motherhood defined throughout the book? How do choice, opportunity, and circumstances impact different characters’ approach to motherhood?

6. Mia’s journey to becoming an artist is almost a beautiful novella of its own. Mia’s art clearly has the power to change lives. What piece of art has shaped your life in an important way?

7. Pearl has led a singular life before arriving in Shaker, but once she meets the Richardsons, she has the chance to become a “normal” teenager. Is that a good thing?

8. What ultimately bothers Elena most about Mia?

9. The novel begins with a great conflagration, but its conclusion is even more devastating. What do you think happens to Elena after the novel ends? To Mia and Pearl? To Izzy? Do you think Izzy ever returns to Shaker and her family? Why or why not?

10. Celeste Ng is noted for her ability to shift between the perspective of different characters in her work. How does that choice shape the reader’s experience of the novel?

11. We see how race and class underline the experiences of all the characters and how they interact with each other. In what ways are attitudes toward race and class different and the same today as in the late 1990s, when the book is set?

12. Izzy chooses “This Be the Verse” to sum up her life. Is what the poem says accurate, in the context of Izzy’s experience?

13. What does the title mean to you? What about the book’s dedication?

WMBC Questions by Elaine Gallant
Dec, 2017