Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng
46/60 | Started 09.30.23 • Finished 10.17.23 | 4 stars
Though it had been on my TBR for a while, I came into this novel knowing nothing about it. What I got was so far out of left field that it was almost shocking.
He jitters his knee against the table leg until his father returns, and then the jittering transfers itself inside him, to the hollow part of his chest.
The story takes place in the not-to-distant future, in a world where the government reigns with control and the people live their lives in fear and quietude. Deep concerns about China's influence on the western world and a particular Incident have caused people to become anti-Asian as well as extremely pro-American. What's best for the country is best for everyone - the law of the land known as PACT. The reader gets the idea that the population exists in a state of constant anxiety, always wondering if someone will interpret their actions or words or mannerisms or lifestyle to be sympathetic to China. Underlying this fear, we soon learn, is the threat of having one's children removed from the home.
If we fear something, it is all the more imperative we study it thoroughly.
12 year old Bird and his father have a special relationship with this anxiety because Bird's now-absent mother is known as a dissident. As a poet, her writings are latched onto by the underground of those who oppose PACT. One of her lines, "our missing hearts", becomes the special slogan of those whose children have been removed from their homes. After receiving a codified drawing in the mail, Bird decides he must leave his father and locate his mother in order to have all his questions about her answered. This book is that discovery.
She was always doing that, telling him stories. Prying open cracks for magic to seep in, making the world a place of possibility.
I'll go ahead and say it - I see a lot of parallels between things going on in our world and things that happen in this book. To be sure, it's a very plausible story. And I think it helps the reader connect with Bird, and with his mother. Their fear is palpable, as is their love and concern for one another. There is almost a desperate feeling towards these characters, a yearning for them to find each other and experience freedom. But the reader will learn that freedom most often comes only by brave sacrifice.
She wants to be just his mother for one day. As if she can correct all these years without her, with one golden afternoon.
This is a really good book. It's a tad on the dark side - which I'm learning is something I appreciate in a well-written novel. For that reason, I probably would only recommend it to the right person; nonetheless it's beautifully done. I enjoyed the journey from secrecy and confusion to revelation and hope. Tidbit: libraries play an important part, which I found both scary and a point of genius in the plot.
When are you ever done with the story of someone you love? You turn the most precious of your memories over and over, wearing their edges smooth, warming them again with your heat. You touch the curves and hollows of every detail you have, memorizing them, reciting them once more though you already know them in your bones. Who ever thinks, recalling the face of the one they loved who is gone: yes, I looked at you enough, I loved you enough, we had enough time, any of this was enough?