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Saturday, December 17, 2022

Book Review: Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

BOOK review
Started on: 10 October 2022
Finished on: 3 November 2022
Title: Our Missing Hearts
Author: Celeste Ng
Publisher: Penguin Press
Pages:  335 pages / 352 pages (e-book)
Year of Publication: 2022
Price: Rp 265,000 (Periplus)

Rating: 4/5
"So now, out of the blue: a letter from his mother. It looks like her handwriting—and no one else would call him that. Bird."
Twelve-year-old Noah 'Bird' Gardner lives a quiet life with his father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird has always been told not to ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. In the past decade, their lives have been governed by PACT, laws written to preserve "American culture" after years of economic instability and violence that they call the Crisis. The authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books that are deemed as unpatriotic—including the work of Bird's mother, Margaret, a Chinese-American poet who left the family when he was nine years old. Bird has no idea what happened to his mother and why she left, but when he receives a mysterious letter containing a cryptic drawing, he is suddenly pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him to many places where he meets a lot of people and to a city where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of a much-needed change.
"He doesn't remember much about his mother, but he remembers this: she always had a plan. She would not have taken the trouble to find their new address, and the risk of writing him, for no reason."
"People didn't like to talk about it, liked to hear about it even less: that the patriotism of PACT was laced with a threat."
I've been a fan of Celeste Ng since I read Little Fires Everywhere and am always looking forward to her newest release. That's why when I found out that she's publishing a new book, I was so excited and set all the other books aside just to read this one. Despite loving Celeste Ng's beautiful writing, unfortunately, this book fell short of my expectations—which were pretty high right from the start. Although I didn't enjoy this book as much as I had initially hoped, I truly admire Celeste Ng for bringing the theme of prejudice and racism against Asian people into the story. Our Missing Hearts is a fictional story inspired by many real-life events—both past and current, and it's heartbreaking to think that there are people out there who suffered the same way the characters in this book did.
"It's dangerous to look like him, always has been. It's dangerous to be his mother's child, in more ways than one."
"Her letter, the story, this note: it is too much to be a coincidence. To Bird it has the certainty of a prophecy, or a quest; he feels it with the arrogant confidence only a child can have."
The story is set in a dystopian world in which the USA experienced economic instability and violence called The Crisis a decade ago, and since then has lived under PACT, laws that are supposed to help preserve the 'American culture' but it's actually patriotism laced with a threat. The first part of this book focuses on our main character, Noah 'Bird' Gardner; through his perspective, we get to piece together the world that Bird is living in and why his father told him not to stand out too much or stray too far. Besides all the anomalies in their daily lives, Bird also witnessed various anti-PACT riots with the slogan Our Missing Hearts, which came from a poem written by Margaret Miu—who's also Bird's mother who left when he was nine years old. Bird never questioned anything until he discovered a mysterious letter that he assume comes from his mother. During the second part of the book is when we finally meet Margaret Miu. As she explains what happened in the past to her son, we will be able to grasp the bigger picture and realize the severity of the situation. Bird also soon realizes that Margaret is planning a dangerous mission in hope to bring a much-needed change in this bleak world.

Even though the premise is very intriguing, I find it difficult to immerse myself in the world-building at the start. It also doesn't help that the first part of the book felt too slow for me and there were just too many questions in my head that needed answers. Thankfully, Margaret ended up answering most of that questions—that's why I enjoyed the second half of the book better than the first one. The way Celeste Ng described what happened during the Crisis and how everything changed after PACT was absolutely heart-wrenching. It hits especially close to home because there are similarities to what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic when people are navigating through all sorts of challenges and there are a lot of attacks directed towards Asians related to the outbreak. I'm always amazed at how Celeste Ng is able to move me emotionally with her writing 🥹. One other issue that I have with this book is the fact that there are no quotation marks for the dialogue—which made it confusing at times because I don't know who started talking or if it's just a thought in their head. It definitely affected my enjoyment as I was reading the story.
"I'm not saying there aren't bad mothers, she says. Just that you don't always know. What makes them do something, or not do something. Most of us, we're trying our best."
"PACT, its proponents insisted, would strengthen and unify the nation. Left unsaid was that unity required a common enemy. One box in which to collect all their anger; one straw man to wear the hats of everything they feared."
To be honest, I wasn't completely satisfied with the ending because it was vague and left us hanging with unanswered questions. However, considering the context of the story, I was able to accept that sometimes we have to live with the uncertainties and mysteries of life—especially in the kind of world that Bird lives in. Although I had some issues with the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish and would still be looking forward to Celeste Ng's future works because I just love her writing style so much. Our Missing Hearts is an emotional story that allowed readers to get the perspectives of Asians who were discriminated against—which hopefully encouraged us to be more empathetic and treat others the way we want to be treated. Spread love, not hate! 🫶
"Trying to save every one, all the stories hushed and hidden, all the faces and names too precious to be forgotten."
"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?"
by.stefaniesugia♥ .

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