Thursday, October 13, 2022

Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng: About An All-Too-Terrifyingly-Real Dystopian America

By the standard definition of dystopia -- an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice -- Celeste Ng's new novel Our Missing Hearts is DEFINITELY set in a dystopian America. What's most terrifying -- and what makes this such an engaging read -- is that it's not at all hard to imagine this dystopian version of America becoming reality very soon. 

Ng's dystopian America, she tells us at the end, is based on real events -- violence against Asian Americans, freedoms curtailed in the name of "patriotism," even children being ripped away from their families. 

But there is cause for hope here: In this novel, librarians are heroes of the resistance. Stories and poetry and art still matter. And even as dire as things are, a small and dedicated group is still invested in fighting fascism, racism, and injustice. 

The story is about a 12-year-old boy named Bird. Bird's mother, a poet, has disappeared and Bird and his father, who works at a university library, have no clue what's happened to her. What we do know is that Bird's mother had published a poem that became, though it was not intended this way, a symbol of the resistance against a law known as PACT -- or Preserving American Cultures and Traditions. PACT was enacted after a years-long event known as the Crisis, which galvanized and basically codified burgeoning fascist, authoritarian, and horribly racist tendencies in America. Sound familiar? 

Bird begins finding some clues about his mother's whereabouts, and endeavors to find out what happened to her. And that's the meet of the novel: Will he find her? And will he discover why she disappeared?

I love Celeste Ng, and this is another terrific novel from her -- her first foray into what could be considered "speculative fiction." It's so beautifully written. And Ng truly understand compassion, family dynamics, loyalty, and heartbreak. She is absolutely a joy to read, even when this novel itself isn't exactly cheerful. 

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