In 2014, Celeste Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, was published to near-unanimous (and well-deserved) acclaim. Though a lightning-quick read, the book was not only a thoroughly engrossing literary thriller of sorts about a missing girl and her grieving family, it was also a multilayered and often uncomfortable exploration of teenage angst, familial dysfunction and entrenched racial prejudice in America.

It appears Ng has one-upped herself with her tremendous follow-up novel. Get ready. This one will not only send your noggin on a bender, it’ll touch your heart, too.

Following a similar formula to the one that worked so well in her debut, Ng begins Little Fires Everywhere with a fireball of a first scene — as high school senior Lexie Richardson would say, literally. On the opening page, we find ordinarily coiffed and cucumber-cool Elena Richardson standing in her bathrobe on her normally manicured lawn, watching aghast as her hulking six-bedroom home goes up in flames.

The cause? Arson. The culprit? It’s anybody’s guess. Likely it’s the handiwork of brooding and brazen 14-year-old Izzy, the youngest of Elena and Mr. Richardson’s four children and the self-professed black sheep of the family.

Contrary to what a setup like this suggests, Little Fires doesn’t concern itself with solving the mystery of which one of the Richardsons — or the Richardsons’ pals — had a score to settle and set the blaze. Though we do find out whodunit in the end, it’s almost beside the point. In its place, what Ng delivers is a finely wrought meditation on the nature of motherhood, the dangers of privilege and a cautionary tale about how even the tiniest of secrets can rip families apart and turn perceptions on their head.

The bones of the story are as follows. Mia Warren, a 36-year-old multimedia artist and single mother, and Pearl, Mia’s 15-year-old daughter, have landed in the cushy planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio. For years, they’ve touched down in various states, moving from shabby apartment to even shabbier apartment, gleefully itinerant and unattached.

Now, for the first time, they’re staying put. They’re renting a flat from the aforementioned artlessly beautiful and effortlessly confident Richardson family. (Think a 1990s version of the Brady Bunch, but wealthier and equally tone deaf about the causes and far-reaching effects of racial and class-based inequality. You know, the type of family who doesn’t see anything remotely weird about the statement “We’re lucky. No one sees race here.”)

As in many situations involving landlords and renters of different means who live close to each other, the ties between the families start to get a little bit … murky.

Pearl becomes infatuated with the ease of the Richardson kids’ lifestyle, not to mention secretly obsessed with Lexie’s hunky 16-year-old brother, Trip (much to the chagrin of Trip’s appropriately named 15-year-old brother, Moody). Meanwhile, Izzy finds solace in Mia’s rebellious, artsy-fartsy approach toward life — especially after Mia recognizes something in the child that Izzy’s own mother consistently overlooks: a free spirit.

There’s sneaky sex, an unplanned pregnancy and plenty of teenage-flavored high jinks.

But if this is starting to sound like some quirky melodrama better suited for YA, let me assure you, it’s not (though if Ng were to write a novel for teens, my money’s on it becoming a best-seller).

Instead, about a quarter of the way though, Ng piles on more plot threads (a saga involving the adoption of a Chinese American baby by white friends of the Richardsons that pits Mia and Elena against each other) and meaty information about characters’ backstories (Mia’s mysterious past, for one) to add heft and agency to an already multifaceted portrayal of suburbia.

Through her fiction, Ng is a master at pushing us to look at our personal and societal flaws in the face and see them with new eyes. Everything I Never Told You revealed what can happen when a white mother presses too hard and imposes her dreams on an eager-to-please mixed-race child.

In Little Fires, Ng once again turns a microscope on motherhood and asks nuanced, difficult-to-answer questions. In the battle over Mirabelle McCullough (a.k.a. May Ling), who deserves custody most: the privileged but childless white family who has been trying to get pregnant or adopt for years, but whose idea of keeping her birth culture alive is hanging Asian art on the wall and feeding her more rice? Or is it May Ling’s birth mother — a near-destitute Chinese immigrant who made the mistake of leaving her baby on the steps of a firehouse because she wanted what was best for her daughter, but who now wants the child back?

At times, Ng’s writing suffers from the “too much spelling out” syndrome, as in here: “It came, over and over, down to this: what made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?” Putting exact words to what the reader is thinking or leaning too hard on explaining characters’ choices sometimes lessens the impact. There’s also a lot of unnecessary foreshadowing, as in here: “If he had kept her to himself, perhaps the future might have been quite different.”

But those nitpicks are small potatoes when compared with Ng’s clear knack for spinning a darn good yarn. In fact, though the narrative jumps back and forth through time from rabbit hole to rabbit hole — present day in Shaker Heights, Mia’s art school years in New York, Elena Richardson’s model progression from “high school, college, boyfriend, marriage, job, mortgage, [to] children” — there isn’t a section that doesn’t capture our imagination.

Ng’s done her homework, too. Her depiction of rule-heavy Shaker Heights — Ng’s hometown — is priceless. The ’90s references are also spot on — from Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake, to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and jokes about the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky debacle.

As for the touching parts, there are just enough to spread around — especially a scene toward the end in Mia’s empty kitchen. They’re insightful and relevant, too. If Little Fires Everywhere doesn’t give you pause and help you think differently about humanity and this country’s current state of affairs, start over from the beginning and read the book again.