THE PLOT: ‘Our Missing Hearts’ by Celeste Ng is speculative fiction set in a dystopian near-future. After the US suffers a major economic crisis while China’s economy booms, the ‘Preserving American Culture and Traditions bill becomes law. Anyone deemed unpatriotic is suspicious and those who spread sedition may have their children removed. Twelve-year-old Bird’s mother left the family due to her poetry being viewed as treason. But when he receives a note with a hidden message, he goes on a quest to find her and the meaning behind the most famous line in her renown poem “our missing hearts”.
RATING: FIVE STARS! It’s so hard to review this novel without gushing. The world-building is captivating so it feels like this novel could take place tomorrow. On top of this, the plot is compelling and the characters are intensely loveable – it’s seriously addictive. And the themes! Oh, the themes! The overriding message about immigration and culture and fear and suspicion and racism and Anti-Asian Hate is so powerful. The mirroring between the COVID-19 lockdowns and the world of the fictional Crisis is stunning. Just… I just… FIVE STARS.
GOOD BITS: I know some people will be put off by the words ‘speculative’ or ‘dystopia’ but please fear not – what makes this book amazing is the loveable characters. The novel is mainly narrated between Bird and his mother, and there is such an interesting and tender dynamic between them. Bird is a thoughtful, kind and cautious child who will win over your heart. Additionally, Bird’s father is such a sympathetic character and will pull on the heartstrings of any parent who reads this – he only wants to do his best. My favourite character was Bird’s best friend, Sadie, but I loved them all.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: Near the start of the novel, we are introduced to Bird’s best friend who is mixed-race African-American. Initially, I felt like there was too much parity between the Black and white characters in the social hierarchy which didn’t feel realistic. However, this was addressed in a fabulous way later on in the book, and this element also covered the forced removals of Native American children which I felt was important to acknowledge (no spoilers!). I did feel that some passages were a bit polemic-y and the lack of speechmarks was unnecessary but these didn’t detract from my reading experience.
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood, ‘Never Let me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro and ‘Home Fire’ by Kamila Shamsie. It is a powerful, realistic portrayal of a family devastated by racism and Anti-Asian hatred. Most importantly it bears witness to the centuries of oppression where forced removals of children have been used to silence political resistance, particularly during slavery and to native American communities. I cannot recommend this book enough. Please just buy it now!
Thanks to Tandem Collective and Little Brown for sending me a #gifted copy of this novel.