The book is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a planned community of upper middle-class residents. Elena Richardson’s family is torn apart after Mia Warren and her teenage daughter, Pearl, move into a rental home owned by Elena. Mia has a mysterious past and doesn’t fit in with the Stepford-like families in Shaker Heights.
Soon, little fires start appearing everywhere – literally and figuratively as the Richardson’s home goes up in flames. The town just assumed it was Izzy Richardson, the black sheep of the family, who set the fire. But the Richardson house fire wasn’t the only one burning in town that summer.
Family secrets are at the heart of Ng’s novels, and the mothering styles of both Elena and Mia can be criticized. Issues of social class, identity and pride are brought to the forefront as the town struggles to decide the fate of little May Ling/Mirabelle McCullough.
This is a solid follow-up to Ng’s debut and is sure to keep her on many “must read” lists this fall, after her book is published on Sept. 12.