Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Our Missing Hearts is a devastating novel about the unbreakable bond between mother and son, and a terrifying world in which children are torn from their families. 

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Our Missing Hearts is the latest novel by Celeste Ng, the bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere. Set in a near dystopian future, the novel is told through the eyes of 12-year-old Bird Gardner. Bird lives a quiet existence with his father Ethan, a former linguist who now works at the college library. For a decade, their lives have been ruled by PACT, a set of government laws written to preserve ‘American culture’ in the wake of years of recession. In order to restore America to ‘glory’, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children whose parents are deemed unpatriotic. Libraries have also been forced to remove books by Asian authors, including a book of poetry by Bird’s Chinese American mother Margaret, who fled home when Bird was nine. But, now Bird has grown up, he has grown curious, and he is determined to track his mother down. 

Our Missing Hearts is an expertly written, heart-wrenching novel. Although the story is set in a dystopian world, it feels all too eerily similar to our own 2022. Much like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the horrific events that take place in the novel are drawn from real, historical events that have already taken place. For example, the wrenching away of children from their immigrant parents feels very much like the separation of families by ICE at the American border. Likewise, the fear and hatred of Asians in the novel echoes the abuse many Asians faced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this sense, Our Missing Hearts begins to feel like a flashing warning of what is to come for us, if society does not change. Ng’s ability to unsettle us in this way is masterful. 

Despite the horrific subject nature, Our Missing Hearts is a stunning novel, with beautiful characterisation. It was particularly easy to fall in love with the character of Bird and his sweet innocence. Telling the story through his child's eyes, also made the novel even more so heartbreaking as we see him struggle to comprehend how humans can treat each other so cruelly. The character of Margaret was also extremely loveable. It was beautiful to see her willingness to protect her son at all costs, as well as her willingness to sacrifice herself for the lives of all displaced children and families. Her character was particularly heroic and inspiring. 

All in all, Our Missing Hearts is a poignant testimony to love and a stark warning to society. 

Header Image Credit: Shondaland

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