Why Book Fans Can’t Wait To See Kerry Washington Play Out Mia’s Little Fires Everywhere Story

Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.
Warning: Spoilers from the end the book, Little Fires Everywhere are ahead.
Celeste Ng's novel Little Fires Everywhere was such a huge hit when it was published in 2017, it’s no surprise we got a Hulu adaptation just three years later (it didn’t hurt that it was a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick in September 2017). Little Fires Everywhere, which is streaming now on Hulu, follows artist Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) who move to Shaker Heights, an idyllic little town in the Midwest. They rent out a small space from Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon), who epitomizes everything the small, mainly white and upper middle class Ohio town stands for. But the second Mia and Pearl arrive, everything implodes. From having to confront white privilege to exploring the complexities of motherhood, the community of Shaker Heights is left torched in Mia's wake.
Before arriving in Shaker Heights, Mia and Pearl travel from town to town with the few belongings they have in tow. They move "Whenever my mom gets the bug,” Pearl explains to Elena’s son Moody in the book. It isn’t explained at first, but it becomes more and more obvious that Mia and her daughter aren’t just vagabonds for funsies — they’re running away from something Mia has kept hidden from Pearl. However, this time, Mia promises Pearl that it’s different. “My mom promised. This time we’re staying for good,” Pearl tells Moody.
Those who haven’t read the book will quickly learn that Mia is hiding a deep, dark secret that begins to unravel when she learns about a custody battle between Bebe Chow (Lu Huang) and the McCulloughs (played by Rosemarie DeWitt and Geoff Stults). Bebe, a woman who had recently emigrated from China and was struggling to make ends meet, left her two-month-old baby at the fire station in hopes of giving her a better life. The baby was given to the McCulloughs, a wealthy, white family that had been having fertility struggles and felt blessed to “adopt” the child. However, when Bebe changes her mind before the official adoption papers are signed, the entire town of Shaker Heights becomes divided over who “deserves” to keep the baby. Mia, who we come to find out is harboring a secret about her own journey to motherhood, sides with Bebe (who happens to be her co-worker) and does everything in her power to help her get her baby back.
Mia’s stance on the situation — as well as her lifestyle and parenting — drives Elena over the edge. Already suspecting Mia isn’t quite who she says she is, Elena takes it upon herself to expose her tenant.
And little hints are dropped everywhere. For instance, in a scene in the book, Mia refuses to travel to New York for an art show to display her work at a gallery — even though her art dealer, Anita Rees, promises it to be extremely lucrative. For someone who enjoys traveling so much, why doesn’t Mia want to go to New York? And why exactly is Mia so hell-bent on helping Bebe get her baby back?
This is your last chance to avoid spoilers.
We eventually learn that Mia Warren’s real name is Mia Wright. Mia changed her last name to Warren partly to disguise her identity, and partly to honor her late brother, Warren, who died in a car accident. Mia attended the New York School of Fine Arts to study photography, something she hoped to develop from hobby to a tangible career. However, she struggles with money, barely making ends meet. Though she lives with her art professor/mentor, Pauline Hawthorne, Mia worries that she won’t have enough time to focus on her art if she spends all her time working just to pay for school. One day, she meets a total stranger on a train who offers her his help.
The stranger, Joseph Ryan, turns out to be a wealthy businessman whose wife, Madeline, cannot get pregnant. The two very desperately want a child, and it dawned on Joseph that he could pay Mia to be their surrogate. He chose Mia, Joseph explains, because she bears an uncanny resemblance to his wife. The Ryans draw up a contract that promises to pay Mia $10,000 to have the baby for them, along with covering all of her medical expenses while she’s pregnant.
Mia initially balks at the idea, but after she meets with Joseph and Madeline, she receives a letter from school that informs her that her financial aid has been taken away. She agrees to be a surrogate, since it’s the only way she’ll be able to cover her tuition. 
But things change when Mia tells her brother about the gig. Warren voices his disapproval of what Mia is doing, and the two, who are very close, have an emotional falling out. Soon after, Mia learns that Warren died, and she comes home for the funeral, where her parents learn she’s pregnant. They essentially disown her and keep her from attending her own brother’s funeral. After this, Mia decides that the right thing to do for herself is to keep the baby. 
Mia writes the Ryans a letter telling them she miscarried. “There is no easy way to say this. I lost the baby. I’m so ashamed and so sorry. You don’t owe me anything from our agreement, but I feel I owe you. Here is money to pay you back for the medical appointments. I hope it’s enough—it’s all I can spare,” Mia writes. She takes her brother’s car, the VW Rabbit she ends up driving from state to state with her daughter, and drives West, ending up in San Francisco, giving birth to Pearl, and changing her name to Mia Warren. Pauline, who Mia learns is dying, connects her with Anita, and Anita helps sell photos that Pauline took of Mia and Pearl. Pauline's last gift to Mia is the profits from these photographs, all of which (minus Anita's commission) go to Mia. The photographs (that Elena eventually stumbles upon in a museum) finance Mia's new beginnings.
We learn this through Elena, who is able to track where Pauline's photographs of Mia and Pearl came from and finds Mia's parents. The Wrights tell Elena everything they know about Mia’s arrangement with the Ryans. Elena, who now understands why Mia has taken Bebe’s side in the custody battle, sees Mia as a criminal, a selfish person who stole a baby from a couple who would have made, in Elena’s eyes, far more suitable parents with endless resources to give Pearl. 
Enraged, Elena eventually confronts Mia. “I suppose you thought you could hide,” Elena tells Mia, adding, “I suppose you thought no one would ever know.” Mia pretends not to know what she’s talking about. “Don’t you? I’m sure Joseph and Madeline Ryan do. I’m sure they’d like to know where you are. So would your parents. I’m sure they’d love to know where Pearl is, too,” Elena threatens, and ends up kicking Mia out of her rental, and essentially, out of Shaker Heights.
Mia has no choice but to come clean to Pearl. She even offers her to meet the Ryans in New York. After the shock of learning about her biological father subsides, Pearl forgives her mother for keeping all of this information from her and the two head off to their next home — this time, with a much lighter load. 
So know you know. Enjoy watching Washington and Witherspoon play all this intense drama out.
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