There is a haunting quiet in Celeste Ng’s new book “Our Missing Hearts” (Penguin Press, 352 pp., ★★★★ out of four, out now) that in some ways feels so parallel to our current lives that it is among the most thoughtful, yet disturbing of dystopian novels. Coupled with the humanity and sweetness of the unbreakable love between a mother and her child, it is a book you won’t be able to put down, nor stop thinking about long after you do.
“Our Missing Hearts” tells the story of a 12-year-old boy in an America with a sense of nationalism so strong and hatred for China so intense that those who betray it can be separated from their families, their children, their lives.
Bestselling author Ng called the setting a “version of America that’s like ours but maybe with the volume turned up a little bit,” in a recent interview with NPR.
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The story follows Bird Gardiner, who after living the last few years with his father – a former linguist who now shelves library books – has learned to disavow his artist and dissident mother. In this America, books critical of the nation are not allowed, children of unpatriotic parents are removed from their homes and hatred toward people of Asian origin seems accepted.
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Bird is a likable, believable character who seems both naïve at times and brave at others. The book moves from a meditation on our current political and social state to a tight suspenseful thriller as we follow Bird on an odyssey to find his mother. It is both a reminder of the value of art, a tribute to family bonds that are unbreakable and a salve for our shared humanity.
Ng’s paragraphs are built with sentences so lovely and lyrical you likely will find yourself marking passages in every chapter to share with others. The way she writes about motherhood – about what you know and don’t know about your children, and their expressions “part them and part the person they loved most” – has you nodding along knowingly and gaining insight into your own feelings as a parent.
"Our Missing Hearts" would be a perfect book club selection, lending itself to questions from how to teach our children to create a better world when we have failed to do so and how we can confront injustice in our own communities.
Before you dismiss the book as too close to the America you might know, remember this: Ng is writing. Her beautiful storytelling of families in “Everything I Never Told You” and “Little Fires Everywhere” is a promise that her latest book will feel like a distraction rather than another dimension from the world in which we now live.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Celeste Ng's 'Our Missing Hearts' a dystopian novel with feeling