The Things We Do for Love


by Fran Withrow

Stacks of books, waiting to be read, teeter precariously throughout my house, and I also keep a notebook of “wanna read” titles on the desk by my computer. Bestseller “Little Fires Everywhere” was on my “to read” list, but I hadn’t gotten a hard copy yet. “Soon,” I thought.  I’d heard a lot about this novel.


Then fate intervened. I was walking by a Little Free Library one day and there it sat, calling my name. I grabbed it quickly and headed home to see what the hubbub was all about. Turns out, there’s a reason for the buzz about this book.


From the first page I was swept up in the story, and I could no more stop reading than a leaf can stop bobbing down a rushing stream. Every word and sentence is strung together with fluid grace, each leading to the next so seamlessly that you can’t help but keep going. Superb writing and a great story: that’s a sure winner.  I turned pages far into the night, only stopping myself from finishing it because I wanted to ponder what might happen before I actually found out.


Mr. and Mrs. Richardson and their four teenage children live in the idyllic and insulated town of Shaker Heights, Ohio. When the artist Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl move into the Richardson’s rental property, the families become intertwined in ways none of them could possibly have foreseen.


One of Mrs. Richardson’s friends has adopted an Asian baby, and, through a series of coincidences involving Mia, Pearl, and the Richardson children, the birth mother is found and a lawsuit ensues. Who gets the baby? There are extenuating circumstances all around, and Ng does a masterful job of making the reader feel sympathy for every character in the book. Parallel storylines involve Mrs. Richardson’s children and Mia’s daughter Pearl as they fall in love, deal with family dynamics, and struggle with secrets, sometimes with unintended consequences.


An undercurrent of white privilege, racism, and class runs through the book as well, deftly woven into the story in a way that shows just how entrenched these societal constructs are, and how difficult to overcome. Isn’t that timely?


I was about two-thirds of the way through the book when I stopped in the wee hours of the morning. How could Ng possibly weave all these threads together? What would the judge rule regarding the adopted baby? Would we find out Mia’s secret, and what she and her daughter are running away from?


The ending was quite satisfying, and left me with one of the poignant truths of this book: that mother/daughter relationships survive, no matter what baggage the participants bring with them. Mia and Pearl, Mrs. Richardson and her two daughters, the adopted child and the women who would do anything for her: these are exquisite examples of the things we do for love.


This gem was so good I will be looking for Ng’s first novel. And I’ll put this one back in the Little Free Library for the next lucky reader. Maybe it will be you.


“Little Fires Everywhere”

by Celeste Ng


Penguin Press

352 pages


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North of the James, is an award-winning general interest publication with a regional focus that has been serving the region for over 20 years. North of the James presents business profiles, book and restaurant reviews, a calendar of events, and much more

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