Skip to main content

Our Missing Hearts


Our Missing Hearts

To describe Celeste Ng’s latest novel, OUR MISSING HEARTS, as dystopian is to risk the loss of potential readers and understate both the timeliness and timelessness of this fantastic book. Yes, it depicts a post-“Crisis” near-future, but it is one that rings all too true to both the moment that we live in and the moments that have made up American history so far. In it, economic uncertainty and depression lead to social unrest fueled by politicians and hate-mongers who scapegoat the vulnerable and enforce rigid and restrictive laws to keep everyone in line. Caught up in the worst of this is the Gardner family, whose very existence challenges American ideas about loyalty, obedience, community, identity and resistance.

"OUR MISSING HEARTS is a stunning work.... Ng has crafted a set of memorable characters who are brave and flawed, hopeful yet realistic."

Noah was known by the nickname “Bird” until he was nine years old. Now he is 12, and his father, Ethan, and others insist he is called Noah. Ethan also wants him to publicly deny any relationship to his mother, poet Margaret Miu. In fact, perhaps it would be best if Ethan and Bird never talk about Margaret even in private. For years, Bird accepts all of this --- his mother’s abrupt disappearance, his father’s seeming hostility toward her, the job his father lost, their move to a cramped college dorm, and even his father’s admonition to avoid strangers, especially the police. However, as Bird matures and looks at the world around him with open eyes, he starts to question not only his family’s circumstance, but also the authoritarian structure under which they are living. It begins not with thoughts of his mother, but with the loss of his only friend, Sadie.

Bird meets Sadie at school. She is one of the countless “re-placed” children --- those who have been removed from their homes, taken from parents who are accused of seditious words or acts. Her parents protested the PACT (the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act) and the treatment of Chinese Americans and others who were deemed less than American, untrustworthy, or were even accused of spying and working to destroy the U.S. Sadie has been moved from foster home to foster home but struggles against the oppression. She also knows about Bird’s mother and asks him to share what he remembers. When Sadie is taken away, these conversations challenge Bird to see the world in a clearer light. Then a letter arrives.

The letter is actually just a drawing of cats, but it cracks open something in Bird’s memory. Soon he begins a journey to locate his mother and find out why she left and how she came to be connected to the fractured state of the nation. Along the way, he must confront the hatred and violence that his parents tried to shield him from and learn to find sanctuary in some unexpected places. Readers discover along with Bird about the world before, the power of art as resistance, and the possibilities that the future holds.

OUR MISSING HEARTS is a stunning work. Ng’s characters wrestle with injustice in diverse and compelling ways, using language and images, poetry and technology, as they rely on a courageous underground network for support. Bird is the perfect guide. He is at the age where he is just beginning to understand the world and people around him, question authority and demand agency. He is every bit the son of a linguist turned librarian and a poet turned rebel. Ng has crafted a set of memorable characters who are brave and flawed, hopeful yet realistic.

This is a gorgeous and provocative novel that asks readers to look critically at American society and reject all modes of tyranny in favor of company, acceptance and love.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on October 6, 2022

Our Missing Hearts
by Celeste Ng

  • Publication Date: August 22, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 0593492668
  • ISBN-13: 9780593492666