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Reviews of Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

Our Missing Hearts

A Novel

by Celeste Ng

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng X
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2022, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2023, 352 pages

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Book Summary

From the #1 bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere, comes one of the most highly anticipated books of the year – the inspiring new novel about a mother's unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or 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 pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to 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 City, 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 ignore the most searing injustice. It's a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.



Dear Reader,

In mid-2016, after I finished drafting Little Fires Everywhere, I started what I thought was a fairly traditional novel about a mother and her adolescent son. But as I wrote, the world began to shake along long-ignored fault lines, and the last few years have felt particularly cataclysmic. The story shifted as I wrestled with questions raised by the reckonings taking place—or being avoided. Can we actually make a difference? How can we teach our children to make the world better when we ourselves have failed to do so?

What emerged is the book you hold in your hands. It's the story of Bird, a boy in search of his beloved mother, and of Margaret, struggling to make the world better for Bird despite the costs to herself. And it's also an exploration of themes that matter deeply to me: the challenges of finding one's place within and between cultures, the fragmented legacies passed from parents to children, and the power (and limitations) of art to create change. Above all, it's a story about people pushing back on the wrong we see in the world, and keeping a sense of shared humanity alive in dark, cynical, and isolating times.

I hope it resonates with you, and I'm very grateful for your read.

Celeste Ng

The letter arrives on a Friday. Slit and resealed with a sticker, of course, as all their letters are: Inspected for your safety-PACT. It had caused confusion at the post office, the clerk unfolding the paper inside, studying it, passing it up to his supervisor, then the boss. But eventually it had been deemed harmless and sent on its way. No return address, only a New York, NY postmark, six days old. On the outside, his name-Bird-and because of this he knows it is from his mother.

He has not been Bird for a long time.

We named you Noah after your father's father, his mother told him once. Bird was all your own doing.

The word that, when he said it, felt like him. Something that did not belong on earth, a small quick thing. An inquisitive chirp, a self that curled up at the edges.

The school hadn't liked it. Bird is not a name, they'd said, his name is Noah. His kindergarten teacher, fuming: He won't answer when I call him. He only answers to Bird.

Because his name is Bird, his mother said....

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The novel takes place in a world that "isn't exactly our world, but it isn't not ours, either," writes Ng in the Author's Note (327). What elements of the novel's setting align with your understanding and experience of the events of the twenty-first century thus far? How close do you think we are to a society like that described in the novel?
  2. There are two epigraphs that open the book—one (real) poem by Anna Akhmatova, and one (fictional) excerpt from PACT literature. How does their juxtaposition set up the invitation to compare reality and imagination, and see our present moment through a historical lens as well as the one devised by Ng for the novel?
  3. The connection between literature and protest is powerful in the novel—...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I do not enjoy reading dystopian novels. They make me angry and anxious. But Celeste Ng wrote this and I would read a phone book if she wrote it. Although the setting and plot are both very dark, the characters are so well drawn and loving I found this novel to be uplifting, hopeful and inspiring (Shirley L). Our Missing Hearts would be an excellent choice for a book club. The masterfully written subplots broaden our understanding of real-life situations encountered by many Americans in our current (and past) cultural climate. I can't wait to discuss this book with my own book group! (Laurie L)...continued

Full Review (797 words)

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Stephen King, The New York Times Book Review
Firmly written and well-executed ... a meditation on the sometimes accidental power of words ... I won't give away the splendid conclusion of Ng's book; suffice it to say … It's impossible not to be moved by Margaret Miu's courage, or to applaud her craftiness ... Ng succeeds ... partly because her outrage is contained and focused, and mostly because she is often captivated by the very words she is using … Bird is a brave and believable character, who gives us a relatable portal into a world that seems more like our own every day.

BookPage (starred review)
Celeste Ng is undoubt­edly at the top of her game … Ng's prose highlights the fateful and some­times absurd connections between our world and the realm of ideas, reminding readers that what is in our heads will always reveal itself in our bodies. The result is a novel that will undoubtedly impact how we connect and live in this terrifying, beautiful world.

Literary Hub, 22 Novels You Need to Read This Fall
What an immense joy it is to be back in the trusty hands of Celeste Ng! Like Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You, Our Missing Hearts is a careful study of a family trying their best to live their lives in a world that is rooting against them … [W]hat's particularly striking is Celeste Ng's ability to show us the horrors of this world while also showing how banal it's become for our characters … This is a tale that is propulsive and poignant in equal measure; it's a much-needed love letter to the written word.

Los Angeles Times, Most Anticipated Books of the Fall
[A] stark and stunning fable.

People
[Ng's] most powerful work to date.

Vulture, Books We Can't Wait to Read This Fall
Ng is very good at writing social commentary that's too full of heart and humanity to feel preachy ... almost folkloric ... But as Ng shifts perspectives and fills in the details of how America became the version of itself her book describes, things get scarily real.

Katie Bowlby, Country Living
A compelling and brutal telling of a too-real dystopia ... It's a thought-provoking book that will stay with you long after the last page.

Lauren Mechling, Vogue, Best Books to Read This Fall
"[A] clenched fist of a novel ... Ng has crafted an unwaveringly dark fairy tale for a world that has stopped making sense.

Booklist (starred review)
"[So] much of this utterly stupendous tale is hauntingly, horrifically, historically, currently all too real, from removing and caging children to anti-Asian hate crimes, violent protests, police brutality, and despotic (so-called) leadership. Yet Ng creates an exquisite story of unbreakable family bonds, lifesaving storytelling (and seemingly omniscient librarians!), brilliantly subversive art, and accidentally transformative activism. As lyrical as it is chilling, as astonishing as it is empathic, Our Missing Hearts arguably achieves literary perfection.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Ng's first two novels—her arresting debut, Everything I Never Told You (2014), and devastating follow-up, Little Fires Everywhere (2017)—provided an insightful, empathetic perspective on America as it is. Her equally sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn latest effort, set in a dystopian near future in which Asian Americans are regarded with scorn and mistrust by the government and their neighbors, offers a frightening portrait of what it might become...thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving.

Library Journal (starred review)
Known for focusing on families, race, and relationships, Ng raises the bar another notch in a story intensified by reference to such police violence, political protest, book banning, and discrimination against people of color. Ng's beautiful yet chilling tale will resonate with readers who enjoyed Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and Jessamine Chan's more recent School for Good Mothers. As with her previous novels, her storytelling will not disappoint.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Remarkable ... Ng crafts an affecting family drama out of the chilling and charged atmosphere, and shines especially when offering testimony to the power of art and storytelling ...Ng's latest crackles and sizzles all the way to the end.

Shelf Awareness
An eerie, prophetic novel … [that] showcases Ng's own ingenuity and range. Brilliantly envisioned and filled with Ng's signature tender, intimate character work and complex family dynamics, this coming-of-age story asks what it means to be a good parent or a good citizen when every child is at risk, as well as what power art has to challenge injustice.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

Unputdownable! A Frightening, Cautionary Dystopian Tale That Seems All Too Real
This is a scary novel. Very scary. And it's not because author Celeste Ng has suddenly written a horror novel. It's frightening because this cautionary dystopian tale of what could happen in the United States has just enough shreds of possibility in ...   Read More
Pam S. (Wellesley, MA)

A cautionary tale
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It is a terrifying and all too believable fable that imagines a not-too-distant future America where a law has been passed that protects "American Values." The first part of the book is told ...   Read More
Sarah B

Timely and Wonderful
A book that is timely and wonderfully written. The echoes of current societies in this dystopian America where people of certain ethnicities are forced to deal with state sanctioned racism. This book is in equal turns heart breaking and can offer a ...   Read More
Joyce M. (Arlington, VA)

A must read!
This book is very timely! It tells the story of a twelve-year old boy, Bird, who lives with his father in Cambridge, MA. They are living in a time when P.A.C.T. (Preserving American Culture and Traditions) is in place. Books have been banned and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Chilling Rise in Book Bans in the United States

Book jackets of frequently banned booksCeleste Ng's novel Our Missing Hearts is set in an alternate present in which the U.S. government has passed the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act, which regulates, among other things, cultural influence deemed not sufficiently American. The main character's mother is a Chinese American poet whose works have been banned under the act. Ng's book is a product of the wave of reactionary racist, xenophobic attitudes in the U.S., and book banning is one way those attitudes are manifesting.

According to the American Library Association (ALA), 1,597 individual books were targeted for censorship or removal from libraries in 2021, the highest number since the ALA began keeping track over 20 years earlier. 2022 will break the record ...

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