Hello everyone and welcome to a brand new edition of Lil Red’s Book Club! Today, we will be discussing one of the best books that I have read in a good long while called Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng. And, as always, no spoilers will be given away! Before we begin, I will be placing a trigger warning for violence, assault, hate crimes, and disturbing content. Now, let’s get to it:
Bird is a twelve year old, Chinese American boy who lives with his father in a shabby dorm room on the college campus where his dad works in the library. Things didn’t always used to be like that, though. Bird and his parents used to live in a wonderful home when his dad was teaching at Harvard. Everything went upside down when Bird’s mom left several years ago, seemingly with no reason whatsoever.
Bird lives in a strange time and was born after The Crisis. This period refers to a time in America where everything was plunged into despair: Financial ruin, sickness plaguing the country, and protests, bombings, and attacks happening daily. It wasn’t long for America to find a scapegoat and the blame for the country’s demise fell on the Chinese. Once fingers began to point, the solution was to form PACT or the Protection of American Culture and Traditions.
PACT let it be known that it wasn’t a crime to be of a different race. However, if you were displaying any type of “unpatriotic” behavior (speaking a foreign language, for example) or criticizing PACT, it was grounds to have your children removed from the home or being thrown in jail. Neighbors were encouraged to report any of these unAmerican acts and anyone who looked different knew it was best to keep their head down or risk being battered on the streets.
Some people were brave enough to speak out against PACT and their inspiration drew from an unlikely source. A line from a poem written by Bird’s mom. Her book of poetry had all but been forgotten, but the line of “our missing hearts” reverberated with the families whose children were taken away. Soon, clever displays of protest began to appear everywhere featuring the phrase “our missing hearts”: trees wrapped in red yard with dolls that looked like children hanging from it, ice sculptures of children melting in the sun, and an entire street painted red. Did Bird’s mom leave the family to begin this revolution?
After receiving a letter from his mom with nothing but a drawing of cats, Bird can’t stop thinking about her. And, eventually, he figures out the clue of the drawing to lead him back to his mom in New York City. Bird learns that his mom has been laying low in an abandoned house and she has something big planned. Thanks to her network of librarians, parents, and trusted strangers, Bird’s mom has spent every minute since she left home tracking down the missing hearts. And, with her grand finale, she hopes that everyone will listen to their stories and remember them in their own hearts. Will Bird’s family finally be reunited? Will the world of PACT crumble and fall? Read Our Missing Hearts to find out!
Reading Our Missing Hearts was equal parts heartwarming, moving, and terrifying. Obviously, The Crisis drew inspirations from the Covid-19 pandemic and it was all but too easy to imagine the world that Celeste Ng created once The Crisis had passed. I can think of several examples of hatred that mimics PACT closely in America right off the top of my head. And, how many cases of missing children are we all aware about? Too many to count. It was scary to read about this world that felt so relatable and close, but the hope that Ng instilled in every page kept me rooting for better days ahead for Bird and everyone in this world.
Our Missing Hearts moved me so deeply and Celeste Ng has such an amazing way with words. I could tell that she selected her words and phrases with so much care and it was almost like reading poetry on every page. Each character in this book was cultivated with love and they were beautiful; Bird’s studious father who breaks down words to their original roots, his fiery, passionate mother, and Bird himself – curious and strong despite living in a world that hates people who look like him. It was impossible to not fall in love with all of them and it made every setback feel like a stab in the heart.
I truly could not put Our Missing Hearts down to save my own life and now that I am done with it, I want to read it again! Things have sucked in my world due to personal reasons and this book reminded me to continue to be brave. It encouraged me to be strong like Bird and his family. And it offered the push that everyone can use every now and then to continue to be a voice for those on the side of injustice. Our Missing Hearts showcased the power of words and every single one of us has that power to use our voice to help the silenced. In Our Missing Hearts’ case, all it took was one simple phrase.
I cannot recommend Our Missing Hearts enough and will be awarding it with the coveted ten out of ten stars. It was absolutely perfect and I guess I have to read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng ASAP!
What are you currently reading? What should I read next? I want to hear from all of you, so leave me a comment and let’s chat! Much love. -Sarah