About the Book:
Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in Harvard’s library. He knows not to ask too many questions, stand out too much, stray too far. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve ‘American culture’ in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic – including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was nine years old.
Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is drawn into a quest to find her. His journey will take him through the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.
Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can turn a blind eye to the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power – and limitations – of art to create change in the world, the lessons and legacies we pass onto our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.
Published by Hachette Australia – Little, Brown
Released October 2022
‘And suddenly, a door clicks open in Bird’s mind. Why his father is always so cautious, why he’s always nagging Bird to follow this particular route or that, to not go off on his own. How his father reached him so fast. It isn’t just dangerous to research China, or go looking for Japanese folktales. It’s dangerous to look like him, always has been. It’s dangerous to be his mother’s child, in more ways than one. His father has always known it, has always been braced for something like this, always on a hair trigger for what inevitably would happen to his son. What he’s afraid of: that one day someone will see Bird’s face and see an enemy. That someone will see him as his mother’s son, in blood or in deed, and take him away.’
I really enjoyed this and thought it was an incredibly impactful novel. Themes of xenophobia and the forced removal of children dominate, along with the power of words, how even a simple sentence can be the spark that ignites a revolution.
‘You think this is something new? She shook her head.
Margaret listened. She began to learn: there was no new thing under the sun. About the schools where Indigenous children were shorn and stripped, renamed, re-educated, and returned home broken and scarred – or never at all. About children borne across borders in their parents’ arms only to be caged in warehouses, alone and afraid. About foster children pinballed from home to home, their own families sometimes unable to track their path. Things she’d been able to not know, until now. There was a long history of children taken, the pretexts different but the reasons the same. A most precious ransom, a cudgel over a parent’s head. It was whatever the opposite of an anchor was: an attempt to uproot some otherness, something hated and feared. Some foreignness seen as an invasive weed, something to be eradicated.’
Many parts of this novel broke my heart, particularly when it became apparent the sacrifice Bird’s parents had both made to keep him safe. Told in alternate perspectives between Bird and his mother Margaret, Our Missing Hearts is at once a novel that will reel you in and keep you nestled within its pages for the duration. Celeste Ng writes with impact, truth, and immense heart. I highly recommend this one.
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng”
Mainly agree I gave it 3.5 which is good. I felt it was a good YA book and reminiscent of ‘Klara’ and ‘testaments’ some beautiful writing especially page 191
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I definitely liked this more than Little Fires Everywhere.