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Little Fires Everywhere is the second novel by Celeste Ng. In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned—from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules. Enter Mia Warren—an enigmatic artist and single mother—who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community. When old family friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town—and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia's past. But her obsession will come at an unexpected and devastating cost...

The novel was adapted into a miniseries airing on Hulu in 2020, starring Reese Witherspoon as Elena and Kerry Washington as Mia.

Contains the following tropes:

  • Abortion Fallout Drama: Lexie has an abortion after getting pregnant with her boyfriend's baby so they can go to college. She is shown to have very mixed feelings, but the people who learn about it don't tell her it was wrong. However, she goes to great lengths to hide it, including putting Pearl's name on the abortion papers, which causes a bigger fallout later.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Bebe appears in the second episode of the show and mentions she has a daughter, May Ling,, and not too long after that Mia pieces together that baby Mirabelle is actually May Ling. In the book, anything to do with Bebe is only hinted for a long time.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Due to having to put up with Elena forcing herself into her and her daughter's lives, Mia becomes a lot more abrasive and fiery-tempered than she was in the book.
  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul:
    • In the series, Elena and Mia are much more openly antagonistic towards each other once Bebe finds her daughter, and they have direct confrontations about the custody situation. In the book, they almost never directly confront each other. Additionally, Pearl is much more openly resentful of their nomadic lifestyle and jealous of the Richardsons in the novel while in the series, she's more amenable towards them.
    • In the novel, Pearl and Trip have an affair and are clueless to Moody's feelings about her. In the series, Trip immediately feels guilty after they have sex for the first time, though they continue seeing each other.
    • In the novel, Elena's harsh treatment of Izzy is because of being overprotective due to Izzy being premature, however in the series Elena resents her because she never wanted a fourth child.
  • Adaptational Sexuality:
    • In the series, Izzy is a lesbian and teased mercilessly in school because of it. In the book she's just an outcast and no statement is ever made about her sexuality.
    • In the series, Mia is bisexual and has a relationship with her female professor. In the novel, her sexuality is never stated, nor is her race, which is a plot point in the series.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Moody notes in his internal monologue that Lexie and Trip tend to treat Izzy like she's a rabid dog who might bite them at any moment, Mrs. Richardson is borderline emotionally abusive towards her youngest daughter and Mr. Richardson is mostly a useless bystander. Moody is the only one in the immediate family who notices this uncomfortable dynamic but isn't equipped to deal with it.
  • Amoral Attorney: Bill for the most part is a subversion. While he does get pretty hostile when defending Linda and Mark in court, he's furious when finding out that Elena had attempted to bribe Bebe, and refuses to use Mia's past against her beyond firmly asking why she's helping Bebe (despite his wife's insistence). However, he also casually notes that "people like" Bebe don't win court cases.
    • Notably, after winning the court case, he tries to leave the door open for Bebe to get some visitation, and it is Linda who shuts that down instead. He does want what's best for his client, but also what is best for the baby.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Elena poses a threat in the form of one to Mia regarding her testifying on Bebe's behalf that leaves the latter on the verge of breaking down in tears. It almost works as intended.
    Elena: Is fighting for someone else's child worth losing your own?
  • Artistic License Law: Some lawyers might consider it improper for Bill to represent the McCulloughs, his family's best friends of many years, in May Ling's custody case. He ought to have referred them to a disinterested family attorney.
    • Improper on principle and it could at least cause the question of bias to be raised, but the practice itself would be perfectly legal unless Bill had represented Bebe at some point, which he definitely hasn't. That said, Bebe's attorney still should have pointed the relationship out in court before they even began questioning her on the stand.
  • Artistic Title: The opening sequence features a number of objects that come up throughout the series, all on fire.
  • The Atoner: Mia's reason for throwing her hat into the ring to help Bebe to get her child back is mostly because she had absconded with Pearl, raising her as her own instead of relinquishing her to the couple she was surrogating for. Elena wastes no time calling her out on this.
  • Baby Be Mine: This is the story behind Pearl's conception. While in New York for college, Mia agreed to become a surrogate for a wealthy couple in order to pay her tuition, but midway through the pregnancy, she realized she couldn't go through with it (following her brother's death and being disowned by her parents). She sent a letter to the couple claiming she miscarried and abruptly left the city, cutting all contact with them and her family and subsequently raising Pearl on her own.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Mrs. Richardson justifies digging around Mia's history as retribution for Mia's support of Bebe causing emotional pain to her best friend, Linda. While it's true that is certainly important to Elena, really it's about her exerting control and punishing the one woman in Shaker Heights who doesn't fit in, but doesn't care to.
  • Berserk Button: Given her need to be the center of attention and control everything around her, anyone who doesn't conform to Elena's way of thinking, no matter how far in or out of her inner circle they might be, will incur her wrath.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama: Moody crushes on Pearl, but she only sees him as a friend and is more attracted to Trip. True to the trope name, much drama ensues surrounding this.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Borderlining on Downer Ending.
    • Mia and Pearl are evicted and leave Shaker Heights, but are closer than before now that Mia has told Pearl the truth about her birth. In the novel they're planning to see Pearl's real father and Mia's parents in the future, while the series ends with them visiting Mia's parents.
    • Meanwhile, Elena's controlling and abusive behavior has finally caused her family to implode with the house burning down, caused by Izzy (in the novel) or by Lexie, Trip, and Moody (in the series), with Izzy running away.
    • Izzy flees Shaker Heights in both adaptions, but in the novel, she has the contact info for Mia's art dealer, meaning she may be able to find Mia in the future.
    • Elena also finally learns her lesson in both versions, with her taking the blame for the fire in the series and vowing to find Izzy in the novel, though it remains open in the series if she ever will find her.
      • In an interview with Vulture magazine, the producers said they envision that Izzy does ultimately return safely home.
    • Lastly, the McCulloughs win the case, but Bebe abducts the baby in the middle of the night, fleeing to China (in the novel), never to be found again, or to Canada in the series, leaving both her and May Ling's fates open. In the book, the McCulloughs move on to adopt directly from China, although losing their first child still haunts them. In the series, we don't see them again after they discover May Ling's disappearance.
  • Blackmail: How Elena tries to stop Mia from testifying for Bebe, threatening to expose her past in court. As her husband, the lawyer for the other side, points out, that's witness intimidation.
  • Character Development: After becoming pregnant by accident herself, Lexie starts to question for the first time in her life if she made the right decision and begins to learn there is no set path in life and that anything can drastically shift the course of it, no matter how well thought out your plans might be.
    • After his fight with his brother, Trip has managed to think things through enough to talk candidly with Pearl about their mothers, leading to her forgiving Mia.
  • Condescending Compassion: Every "compassionate" thing Elena does, from offering the Warrens a place to live, and Mia a job, to drumming up support in the McCullough's custody case is less about the other person and more to boost her own ego and social standing, or to make her look like less of a bigot than she truly is, to the point that she'll force her generosity upon the other person and becomes very offended if they turn her down.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: The Richardsons have money, enough to not worry about it. Lexie thinks nothing of buying an expensive dress for Pearl to wear to a school dance (to Mia's immense displeasure) and Elena specifically buys tartan clothing and accessories for a Christmas photo (though she allegedly planned on returning some of them, like the shoes, after she was done) that she makes her family do over when the first aren't nice enough by her standards. Mia and Elena's differing views on money are one of their many major fracture points.
  • Control Freak: Elena considers everything that goes on in Shaker Heights to be under her domain and becomes very agitated when people don't immediately surrender to her, something that causes her to constantly butt heads with Izzy, who has a very strong personality and opinions that greatly differ from Elena's.
  • Creator Cameo: Celeste Ng, the author of the novel, appears as part of Elena's book club in episode 2 of the series.
  • Did Not Think This Through: In the series, after Izzy runs off, the remaining Richardson children decide to make their own statement against Elena by setting fire to their rooms, as opposed to all getting into Lexie's car and going after Izzy while they could still catch up to her. By the time it's all over, they have no home and Izzy's still missing, presumably miles away from Shaker Heights. In the novel, Izzy alone is guilty of this trope.
  • Disappeared Dad: Pearl's dad isn't around, though Mia won't tell her much about him or why this had happened (he'd left when Pearl was an infant apparently), just he wasn't interested in being a parent. It turns out this is a lie-Mia stole Pearl. She was the surrogate for him and his infertile wife. Understandably, Pearl doesn't take this news well.
  • Discretion Shot: Lexie, who has just begun having sex regularly with Brian, tells Pearl and her friend Serena about something "special" she plans to let him do. The audience never hears what this is, but one can only guess based on the screams and giggles that emanate from her bedroom in the next shot.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Izzy finally has enough of her mother's condescension toward her and everyone around her and is about to set fire to the house before running away to try to find Mia and Pearl. Her siblings stop her only to finish what she started when Elena picks that moment to drunkenly scream that she never wanted Izzy in the first place.
    • Shortly before this, Elena hits Mia and Pearl with an impromptu eviction, blaming them for messing up her family's cozy lives (she believed that Trip had impregnated Pearl). Mia's response? Calling Elena out for not being an attentive parent while she was busy ruining the lives of those she felt were beneath her, stating Elena's the reason Lexie felt the need to forge Pearl's name on her abortion papers.
    • In the novel, Izzy's siblings weren't there to stop her, and she set every part of the house on fire (hence the novel's title)...except her parents' bedroom, but only because she ran out of gasoline. She did this with the assumption that the house was empty; had she gone into the bedroom, she would have realized her error, as her mother had slept in.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Moody has a little bit of this with Pearl, as he was the first person in Shaker Heights to befriend had and becomes bitterly resentful when Pearl begins preferring to hang out with Lexie and Trip over him. Izzy calls him out on this after it escalates to a fight.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Lexie and Trip enjoy picking on Izzy. But when their mother openly reveals she never wanted Izzy in the first place, Lexie and Trip are horrified enough that they set fire to their rooms out of spite.
  • Family Versus Career:
    • Elena, around the time Izzy is conceived. She had planned to resume her career as a journalist and is enraged to discover that another pregnancy will ruin her plan.
    • Pearl accuses Mia of always putting the needs of her career as an artist ahead of giving her daughter a more comfortable life.
  • Foreshadowing: Lexie's friend Serena comments that Lexie looks "extra glowy" not long before she takes a pregnancy test.
    • Izzy singes her hair while straightening it and nearly starts an electrical fire by accident. After checking to see if she's okay, Elena pointedly asks her if she did it on purpose.
    • Bill telling Elena that "Everyone's going to be accountable for their actions." He was only talking abut the custody case, but metaphorically, everyone is, Elena included.
  • Freudian Excuse: Both Mia and Elena have reasons they do what they do, even if it seems incomprehensible at times.
    • Mia was a surrogate who was supposed to give Pearl away before she got attached. She took her late brother's name as her surname and ran away with Pearl, living on the road ever since.
    • Elena has made multiple compromises in her life to get it to the "perfect" status it's in at the beginning of the show, and the idea that someone else might choose differently and end up fine, or that the wealth and security she compromised for might not have been worth it, both set her off.
    • Lexie may be superficial and spoiled, but the pressure her mother puts on her to be a perfect daughter is extremely taxing and makes her feel she can't make choices.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: Elena's issues above still do not exonerate her for taking out her unhappiness for giving up her career on Izzy or Mia, or worse going through Mia's past to try and discredit her and Bebe in the case over baby May Ling.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: The battle over baby May Ling, however Bebe comes across as a lighter shade of gray due to the fact that the McCulloughs could adopt another child which they do after May Ling is kidnapped by Bebe at the end and also are racially insensitive about May Ling being Chinese-American, in addition to not even wanting Bebe to have visitation rights. It's made very clear the main reason for the judge to favor the McCulloughs in the case is their money and "stability" which wins out.
    • And then Bebe subverts it when she kidnaps May Ling and flees to Canada with her.
  • Heel Realization: Only at the very end, with her family's house gutted and Izzy missing, having run away after Elena says she never wanted her does Elena realize that her escalating Control Freak antics may finally have cost her something she truly holds dear after all.
  • Heroic BSoD: Izzy is so distraught when Mia and Pearl leave Shaker Heights that in the book she sets fire to the house and runs away, intending to join Mia on the road instead of living with her family. In the show, she goes to set the fire, but is stopped by her siblings...who then set the fire themselves after Elena screams she never wanted Izzy and rejects Lexie's dressing down while Izzy runs away.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Elena, surprisingly enough, pulls this in the finale to protect her kids by saying she is responsible for the fire despite knowing that doing so will likely leave her facing arson charges and a tarnished reputation.
  • How We Got Here: The series starts with Elena staring in shock as her stately home burns to the ground, which we later learn started while she was still inside. It spends the remaining episodes establishing what led up to this and who's responsible; it's her own children.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Mia, who shortly after being hired as Elena's maid took the opportunity to snoop around in her faxes (not counting when expecting Elena would fire her after discovering Mia's ties with Bebe, curious in the kids' room, of Izzy in particular, contemplating taking away their personal belongings as a keepsake), has the audacity to scold Izzy harshly for violating her privacy and slam the door in her face when the poor girl shows up to talk about Mia's photo from when she was pregnant of Pearl on the front page of New York times.
    • In the series Elena constantly makes a show of how she's a progressive intent on diversity in the community. Really though she can't stand anyone who won't conform to her ideals (including Mia, who's Black) or her own daughter Izzy, who's a lesbian (something Elena has clearly been in denial about because she's so unhappy with the fact). She's intent on all her kids being "perfect" by her conception, and erupts in a rage when Lexie rejects this to her face. She also constantly harangues Izzy about everything not being about her, despite pretty much living and breathing this trope herself.
  • I Have No Daughter!: Elena shows shades of this regarding Izzy, first by cutting her out of their Christmas card photos for messing them up, and at one point snarls that she never wanted Izzy in a moment of drunken rage, only to heavily regret it later when circumstances apparently put the truth to this trope.
    • Mia's parents barred her from attending her brother's funeral after she became a surrogate and she mentions that they later disowned her at around the time Pearl was born.
  • Innocently Insensitive:
    • Lexie has a tendency to say whatever comes to mind without bothering to think of how her words can be taken, but she's not really malicious, just self-absorbed and rather spoiled. However, it may be deconstructed because Mia calls her out on how coincidental it is that Lexie uses her innocence and naivety to get it to work out exactly how she wanted it. This eventually starts putting strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, Brian.
    • Izzy, when trying to make an artistic statement about the trial over baby May Ling, didn't think about how putting faces of celebrities of different races on white baby dolls could be seen as offensive, which Brian and Mia both call her out on.
    • The entire town of Shaker Heights is portrayed to have this attitude toward race. While the residents pat themselves on the back constantly for their efforts to integrate the town, Mia listens to an audiobook that asks how enlightened the townsfolk could really be if they had to literally pay white families to move into black neighborhoods.
  • Intimidating White Presence: Elena doesn't seem intimidating, but she is the classic Obnoxious Entitled Housewife in the all-white suburb of Shaker Heights. It seems to be subverted in the relationship between Pearl (who is Black) and Elena, which seems at times closer than Pearl's own mother Mia. However, Elena gradually shows her true colors when she and the remainder of her white friends, specifically the wealthy doctor Linda, conspire against Bebe Chow, who is Asian, to make sure that she loses any chance of regaining parental rights to her daughter, who is also Linda's adopted daughter. At the girl's party, Linda gives her an entire party that is all-white (in food, decoration, and attendance).
  • It's All About Me:
    • Elena is this in spades, especially regarding her children and anything involving Mia. For example, she opened Lexie's acceptance letter to Yale to know if she got in before she even arrived home. When Bill confronts her about abruptly traveling to New York, she refuses to admit any wrong in it despite leaving her family alone for a few days with no warning solely so she could find information on Mia. Her husband also points out that her attempt to blackmail Mia into backing out as a witness means he, the lawyer for the defense, can now be accused of witness tampering. She's upset he's mad at her for "trying to help." She's upset that people are "blaming her" instead of Mia in the fight over the court case. During her Villainous Breakdown, what makes her snap the most? Lexie tearfully insisting she isn't perfect like Elena wants her to be. Elena's response is to brokenly scream "Yes you are!"
    • Mia herself is not exempt from this either, since she forced poor Pearl to constantly move from city to city with no opportunity to adapt to any school and make meaningful friendships, essentially force her daughter to lead a minimalist and poor lifestyle to indulge her artistic desires and also to hide from her the fact that she is fled with the child, instead of giving her to the couple for whom she was acting as a surrogate. Not to mention that the whole reason she reveals to Bebe that May Ling was adopted by Linda and Mark as Mirabelle and urges her to fight for the custody so much (at the cost of her own daughter's friendship with the Richardson) is because she projects so much on them her own family situation.
    • Lexie has this attitude to a lesser extent and it's part of the reason Brian dumps her.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • When Izzy disagrees with her parents over who should rightfully be raising the Chinese-American baby and accuses the adopted family of stealing her, Elena responds by throwing out Izzy's beloved Doc Marten boots.
    • Lexie using Pearl's story as an essay for Yale is dubious enough, but it kicks up a notch that she uses Pearl's name when seeking an abortion...and then asks Pearl to give her a ride home. She gets very little sympathy and a "Reason You Suck" Speech from Mia for her troubles, which didn't happen in the book.
    • Elena chopping Izzy out of the family photos for messing up the second set, which Izzy was forced into.
    • Izzy's mom is displeased that she brought an injured cardinal into the house after seeing the mess the kids made trying to shoo it out after it recovered. Izzy is at least happy the bird will be okay, only for Moody to bust that bubble by explaining that mother birds reject their offspring if they've had contact with people.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Elena spends the series thinking that everything in Shaker City revolves around her, being indifferent or condescending to a family that looks up to her, and insinuating herself into situations that aren't her concern instead of being genuinely grateful for what she has. She ends up losing her house, her family's trust and respect, and possibly her youngest daughter.
  • Love Triangle: The dynamics of which change somewhat in the adaptation.
    • In the book: Pearl and Trip have an affair, and neither is aware of Moody's feelings for Pearl.
    • In the series: Trip is aware of Moody's feelings for Pearl and feels guilty about his own, even telling her so, but they have an affair anyway.
  • Loving Bully: The series introduces a new character, April, who was Izzy's secret girlfriend until she falsely accused Izzy of kissing her against her will at a party. She spends most of the series laughing along while her friends bully Izzy, even after she privately admits that she doesn't want to lie about herself.
  • Mama Bear: Mia's love for Pearl is so great that she was willing to run away from the family she initially agreed to be a surrogate for in order to keep her daughter. She's also fiercely protective of Pearl, which is the reason why she changed her mind and took Elena's housekeeping offer, and gives Lexie a piece of her mind about how she's taken advantage of Pearl's friendship.
    • Elena finally steps up to the plate in the finale, saying that she was the one who started the fire, not her children, who are the true culprits. Immediately after this, she goes on a frantic but ultimately futile search for Izzy.
    • Bebe resorts to breaking into Linda's house and kidnapping Mirabelle/May Ling after losing the custody case.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Elena is this through and through.
  • Meaningful Rename:
    • The Chinese baby adopted by the McCulloughs is renamed Mirabelle - her birth name is May Ling Chow.
    • Mia herself. She was born Mia Wright, and changed her last name to the first name of her deceased brother when she took off with Pearl.
  • Medical Horror: Averted with Lexie's abortion. While she's understandably nervous and uncomfortable, what little we see of the procedure makes it appear not much more painful than a Pap smear.
  • Mysterious Past: In the series almost nothing is known about Mia's past initially, and continuing slivers of it are revealed while it goes on.
  • The '90s: Both the series and the book's present storylines are set in the late 1990's, specifically 1997-98 in the novel. The series narrows it down even further to the latter half of '97 and its soundtrack doesn't let anyone forget it. This setting becomes important in establishing the lack of understanding surrounding issues such as systemic racism and homophobia compared to what it has currently become. There are also several flashbacks to the earlier 1990's as well as some to The '70s and The '80s.
  • Noble Bigot: Shaker seems to be made up of these, given that they paid money to integrate their predominantly black neighborhoods, which most people see as a form of gentrification. The McCulloghs adopt an Asian-American girl but intend to raise her as if she's full Caucasian and fight like hell to keep her biological mother from even visiting her. The Richardsons also display it, renting out family property to the Warrens and having no apparent issues with their eldest daughter dating a black teen but treating minorities in general (and Mia and Pearl specifically) as charity cases and saying or doing several Innocently Insensitive but racially-based things without thinking anything of it.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Mrs. Richardson becomes so taken with the idea of generously providing money for her less-wealthy tenant that she basically pressures Mia into agreeing to taking a job as a cleaner at her house. Mia only accepts because she's Genre Savvy enough to see that Elena has already decided on it and to refuse would offend her landlady, but Mrs. Richardson remains resentful that Mia isn't sufficiently "grateful" enough about the offer.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: Elena praises her daughter for getting into Yale, assuming Lexie's essay managed to talk about her own "hard work" in such a way that the essay worked in her favor, while Lexie really knows she sold Pearl's story as her own.
  • Obnoxious Entitled Housewife:
    • Elena is a blonde, entitled journalist who is able to talk her way round the police (and is buddies with them, even bringing them cookies), runs all the PTA events, sits on the Shaker Heights committee, lives in a huge suburban McMansion that was initially owned by her parents, and is passive-aggressive about hiring a black helper (whom she refuses to call a "maid" but treats as one). Opinions are highly divided about whether or not Jerkass Has a Point with regard to defending her best (white) friend who adopted a Chinese infant, but she was definitely wrong in buying her way to learn dirt about Mia (who is black) so she could make sure the adoption went through. She also barely hesitates to use her power to try and kick anyone she doesn't like out of the neighborhood.
    • Lexie, Elena's eldest daughter, may just be a teenager but it is repeatedly invoked and discussed to be a fait accompli in her behavior. She is entitled, wealthy, and stole her "best friend", Pearl's, story about being discriminated on terms of race (Pearl is black) and changed it around to be about gender so she could get into Yale. She also relies on Pearl's help after getting an abortion...only to put Pearl's name down instead because she doesn't want the upper-class clinic to guess it's her.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The three oldest Richardson kids: Lexie (Alexandra), Trip (William), and Moody (Michael). While most people only know Izzy by her nickname as well, Elena insists on calling her Isabelle, which Izzy correctly interprets as a sign of her mother's disregard for her.
  • Parental Favoritism: Elena blatantly prefers her older son and daughter to her younger two and is particularly harsh and critical towards Izzy, the youngest. Unsurprisingly, Izzy ends up bonding with the much more relaxed and nurturing Mia, while Pearl ends up gravitating towards the wealthy Richardson family. The issues with Izzy stem from having not wanted a fourth child, which she had to give up her career for.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Lexie is unable to bring herself to admit to her boyfriend Brian that he got her pregnant and she had an abortion, which leads them to break up when he assumes she's pulling away from him because they are going to different colleges. In the series, their breakup comes as a result of Lexie's insistence that she "doesn't see race," contrasted with Brian contending that she ought to, because he doesn't have a choice.
  • Potty Failure: The orchestra teacher in the aftermath of Izzy's prank of toothpicking all the locks on the doors in the school. It's her own darn fault; if she hadn't been too snobby to use the student bathroom (which was open) as soon as she realized she needed to go, instead of trying to hold out for the faculty bathroom, she would've been fine.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Elena succeeds in helping the McCulloughs retain custody of May Ling/Mirabella, but the lengths she goes to to achieve this, while neglecting the needs of her own family end up costing her. When all is said and done, she loses her home, it's implied that her marriage is on the rocks, her youngest child has run away thanks to something she said, and her remaining three children resent/blame her for it.
    • Ultimately subverted, as the court victory itself gets rendered moot when Bebe breaks into the McCullough's home and absconds with her daughter.
  • Race Lift: Mia and Pearl are both Black in the series but were implied to be Caucasian in the book.
  • Rage-Breaking Point: Elena finally, completely loses it on Izzy when she refuses to wear a pair of tartan Keds for the family Christmas photo.
    Elena: This is not about you, this is about us. And if you want to be a part of this family and live in this house, then you will go upstairs and put on the FUCKING Keds!
    • Izzy gets one of her own when she learns that Elena has successfully run Mia and Pearl out of town. So do her siblings when Elena loudly denounces Izzy for even being born.
  • "Reason You Suck" Speech: Bill gives Elena the one we've all been waiting for in the finale, when he calls her out on rejecting any responsibility for her the selfish measures in the custody battle over May Ling, as well as her treatment of Izzy.
    • Elena and Lexie both receive separate ones from Mia regarding the privilege that being white and affluent affords them at the expense of others who lack said privilege. This didn't happen in the book since Mia being black was invented for the TV show.
  • Rebellious Spirit: Izzy has always been outspoken and willing to stand up for what she believes in, something she sees and admires in Mia and something that makes her constantly clash with the other adults in her life, especially Elena.
  • Say My Name: Elena to Izzy in the finale, finally saying her absent youngest daughter's nickname.
  • Satellite Character: Trip, the older brother of Moody and Izzy, doesn't get as much characterization as his siblings and mainly exists to cause friction between Moody and Pearl.
  • Secretly Selfish:
    • Elena likes to cultivate an image of being a Good Samaritan when renting her old house out to Mia and Pearl, but the fact that she very deliberately chose them based on how they would make her look speaks volumes about what her actual priorities are.
    • Lexie too. While she is genuinely kind to Pearl, she uses this kindness to reinforce her bad behavior towards Pearl that shows a lack of consideration for her wellbeing. She steals her real-life story and makes it about her, and then she uses Pearl's name to cover up for her own abortion without Pearl's knowledge or agreement, after she's asked Pearl to drive her home.
  • Sequel Hook: So many threads are left dangling that it's hard not to assume they're all possible hooks.
  • Sibling Triangle: Moody has a big crush on Pearl, who is crushing on his older brother Trip.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Not only is Shaker Heights portrayed like that here, but the real life town is one of the first planned communities in the nation, making it the Ur-Example of a real life Stepford Suburbia.
  • Struggling Single Mother: In the series Mia is a rare female case who actually seems to almost enjoy or at least not care too much about this trope, since although her artistic works do not earn her enough pay to allow her and Pearl to settle permanently in a any place, they still give her the chance to exploit and give vent to her passion for art and photography in particular, despite her daughter's needs and desires.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Mia and Pauline in the series (Pauline has a live-in girlfriend in the novel). Despite the age and power imbalance, their relationship is shown to be genuinely loving and nurturing.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Narrative version: The third-person narrator always calls all of the adults in town, with the exception of Mia and Bebe, Mr. or Mrs. X, to show formality and distance. The kids are known by their first names to show closeness and friendliness. That Mia and Bebe are the outliers quite possibly shows that the town doesn't quite accept them (Bebe being a poor Chinese woman, and Mia being an enigmatic drifter).
  • Title Drop: In the season one finale, a firefighter says there are "little fires everywhere" inside the house, as Elena's kids set it on fire.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Boy, do things go downhill fast for Elena Richardson. First, her husband angrily steps out on her after finally speaking his mind about her actions as of late. Then, while evicting Mia and Pearl, she learns that it was Lexie, not Pearl, who had an abortion and forged Pearl's name to hide the fact, with Mia all but rubbing it in that she's been so focused on controlling everyone else, she doesn't even have know what's going on in her own house/family. Not long after this, and after she says she never wanted Izzy to be born in front of all of her children and allowing Izzy to run out into the dark, she witnesses her house, which belonged to her family for years, become consumed by fires that her remaining three children started. Then she decides that she loves Izzy after all and starts searching desperately for her, only to come up empty, and ends the series a dejected, broken woman.
  • Trophy Child: Elena views all her children this way, but Lexie most of all: She's beautiful, well-dressed, popular, academically successful, and until she starts Calling the Old Man Out unfailingly obedient.
  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Published in 2017, set in the late '90s (from the summer of '97 to the summer of '98). Avoids Present-Day Past in quite a few ways, such as referring to the Cleveland Cavaliers' arena as the Gund, rather than Quicken Loans Arena, referring to the Indians' ballpark as Jacobs Field rather than Progressive Field, and not mentioning the Browns at all as this was after the previous team's move to Baltimore but before the expansion team began play.
  • Unfulfilled Purpose Misery: Elena, who works at the local newspaper (the real-life Sun Press in the novel, the Shaker Times in the series), resents a coworker for being promoted to editor over her and being stuck with the local events beat. Even more so, she resents Izzy for being conceived just as she was ready to get back to work after giving birth to Lexie, Trip, and Moody. She clings desperately to her few career high points and brags about them to anyone who will listen. But, as her ex-boyfriend Jamie points out, she could have gone much farther if she hadn't been so committed to her carefully orchestrated life plan.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Elena suffers one for the majority of the finale episode after being given two brutal "Reason You Suck" Speeches by her husband and Mia, culminating in barely having the will to get out of bed when her son is screaming that the house is on fire and they need to go.
  • Villainous BSoD: Elena suffers one after both her husband and her perfect daughter chew her out for her actions and then another one as she watches her family mansion burn to the ground.
  • Wham Line: Elena in the very last shot of the finale, tearfully referring to Isabelle by her nickname for the first and only time in the series.
    "Izzy"
    • She has another one a little earlier when she accepts responsibility for the fire that gutted her house. She didn't; her three eldest children did, but it's the first instance of her accepting responsibility for the mess her actions have caused.
    "I did. I did it."
  • Wham Shot: In the same scene above, Elena holding a feather from the injured bird Izzy tried to help some years back. The feather had been in a cage in Mia's Shaker Heights art project, driving home the fact that Elena has been keeping her children, Izzy especially, from being free to be themselves with her own selfishness.
  • Where da White Women At?: Lexie's boyfriend, Brian, is black. They break up after she does/says one racially biased thing too many.
  • Why Are You Not My Son?: There are multiple moments when it appears that Pearl is more suited to Elena's family and Izzy is more suited to Mia. Elena clearly loves fussing over Pearl and indulging her, while Izzy loves art and has very strong values. However, while Elena barely bothers to hide that she would prefer Pearl over Izzy, Mia adores Pearl.
  • You Know I'm Black, Right?: Lexie's boyfriend Brian asks her this during their breakup, when he spells out how offensive her stealing Pearl's story to use to get into Yale really was to him.
  • You Owe Me: Elena, looking for evidence that Bebe considered terminating her pregnancy with May Ling, tries to convince her friend Elizabeth, who runs the clinic, to let her dig through confidential patient records, on the ground that Elena was instrumental in getting Elizabeth appointed to her job. Elizabeth is visibly aghast at the audacity.

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