As someone who loved Little Fires Everywhere, I knew I had to read Our Missing Hearts. And as an Asian American, Ng knew exactly the type of story to deliver which would make my heart break. It felt like seeing pieces of my fears reflected all in a dystopian setting that seems to get closer each day. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Our Missing Hearts is thought provoking and emotional. Set in this future dystopia which has taken the Anti-Asian sentiment and taken it even further than it is today, this book will wrench your heart. Not only in the ways it echoes things we have heard, have always heard, and are in our not too distant memory, but also in the ways it takes calls for ‘protection’ and disguises racism within. All the ways that concerns of national security turns into the theft of children, the censorship of books, the changes in curriculum.
It’s a tale as old as time. We’ve seen it with Japanese Internement Camps when their loyalty – even those born in America – was called into question. We’ve seen it with the kidnapping of Indigenous children in efforts to re-educate them. And we are seeing it now with rhetoric in the US with other marginalized communities. So in many ways, the world of Our Missing Hearts feels both dystopian, while also eerily chilling. But Ng delivers a story about how communities, rhetorics, sentiments can change. How quickly someone can become a threat, an Other, on the streets, within our own families.
A Note About the Audio
Okay, I’m not going to lie. The only reason I knew I needed to listen to this audiobook, is my love for Lucy Liu. I’ve been obsessed since “Charlies Angels” and I remember how it felt to see an Asian American on the screen as a lead. That validation, the ways I could always dress up like her, growing up this made such an impression on me. I’ve been following her career ever since and so I knew when I saw she read it, I had to not only listen, but also not to speed it up. I wanted it to be like Lucy Liu was reading just to me. And she did such an amazing job at the emotions both for Bird and Margaret. It lends a cinematic feel not only to the action, but to the character intricacies.
I know I’ve stressed the setting and the world a lot so far. But mostly because as an Asian American woman, this book feels intimate. The ways I’ve been afraid walking down the street, seen the ways in which the rhetoric has been inflamed against those who look like me, how my appearance not my passport has been used against me, and the ways neighbors glances have changed. However aside from the world which gave me chills, Our Missing Hearts is about a quest for answers and family.
For the questions we can’t just let remain in silenced looks. Or the family we are taught to forget. All the ways we just sit by and say nothing and what it takes for us to be moved into action. Ng’s latest is a tour de force which flew by and was supremely relatable. Find Our Missing Hearts on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org, The Book Depository, Libro.fm & Google Play.