Shaker Heights Native’s Novel Turned Into Riveting Hulu Series

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The "Little Fires Everywhere" author grew up in Shaker Heights herself and had a local intuition on how to represent the town when the Hulu series adaption was created.

Ella Schuellerman, Arts & Life Editor

Imagine one of the massive Shaker Heights homes down the road from John Carroll engulfed in ravenous flames. That is the start of one of author Celeste Ng’s award winning novels, and now, a Hulu miniseries. 

 In 2017, Shaker Heights native Celeste Ng released a book that quickly hit the New York Times Bestseller List. “Little Fires Everywhere” was not only written by a Northeast Ohioan but also takes place in the same progressive suburb she grew up in. 

On March 18, streaming service Hulu released a high-profile miniseries adaptation of the hit book featuring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington as two extremely different protagonists: Elena Richardson and Mia Warren. 

The riveting series begins in the mid-’90s with Elena gazing up at her once-beautiful, now burning Shaker Heights brick home. The flickering of fire through the ornate stained glass immediately tells us that the Richardsons are of high class. They are also a well-known family in town. 

As the fire roars, three of Elena’s children sit in the car as police question their parentson the whereabouts of their youngest daughter, Izzy. Did she start the fire? If the police and fire department already knew this young girl by name, is she in trouble? 

The show then suddenly jumps back four months to the end of summer, when school is about to start again and, most likely, when this twisted story of intertwined drama and secrets really began. 

From the very first episode, I could immediately tell the series was not just about twisted secrets but also about racial profiling and the assumptions that were present in the ‘90s based on the color of someone’s skin. That very first episode reminded me that shows like “Little Fires Everywhere” keep dialogue about race relevant and important, as it should be.

One way Ng described the importance of the race conversation in her novel was by saying “People say they do not see color, when they should be seeing that color.” I think this show is going to be a conversation starter in houses everywhere, as there is a clear division between the two main characters, Elena and Mia. That division is going to spark something in viewers. 

The nosey yet nurturing Elena demonstrates how strong the pull of motherhood can be; when a mother yanks too hard, the consequences could be disturbing, even in the seemingly perfect white family. Mysterious and coy Mia was not ready for motherhood when it came. Her free spirit and secrecy impact not only her own image in the Shaker Heights bubble but her daughter’s teenage experience too.

Despite the tension between Elena and Mia being the primary focus of the show, the dramatic divide comes to a head when the guardianship status of a Chinese-American baby, mothered by Mia’s friend yet already adopted by Elena’s friend, comes into question.

In fact, this fictional controversy brought up quite the argument in my own household between members of my family. This show stirs the pot, even in your own head. Viewers must know that, before committing to watching this series, you won’t be able to stop. 

The  first three episodes of “Little Fires Everywhere” have me questioning often and wanting to  peel back a little more of the “why” in hopes of getting the answer to the very first question of the series: Who did it? Why did they do it? 

Just like the novel, the miniseries truly makes you feel the weight of all kinds of secrets. There are secrets everywhere, and it is just a matter of time before they are uncovered. 

Hulu originally released the first three episodes of Little Fires Everywhere on March 18 and is now releasing one episode per week every Wednesday.