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  • Writer's pictureAnna Karras

Book Review by Anna Karras

Our Missing Hearts

Noah Gardner, nicknamed “Bird” by his mother, is thirteen years old; his mother left without a trace several years before. His father, Ethan Gardner, once a professor, now works as a circulation assistant in the Harvard Library. The two of them live in student housing, they eat in the dining hall. Their existence is a small one, and Ethan does his best to protect Bird from the way life has evolved in the United States.

The Crisis, a severe economic downturn filled with scarcity of food and work, punctuated by protests and violence, has given rise to PACT: the government’s answer to quelling the restlessness. The Protection of American Cultures and Traditions is meant to help citizens back to work, and back to prosperity. And with this hope for a new future, a scapegoat for the troubles is gradually chosen: the Chinese.

Margaret (Miu) Gardener, Bird’s mother, unwittingly made the face of the resistance against PACT. The daughter of Chinese immigrants and a poet, her words are used as a rallying cry for those who protest the overreach of PACT into the lives of those who don’t embrace it fully. Bird, who is half Chinese, is not well-liked by his classmates because of his black hair and the slant of his eyes. To protect her child, Margaret disappears.

Several years pass with no word. But then Bird receives a letter in the mail, a single sheet of paper covered in drawings of cats. He knows it is from his mother, but must dig into his memory of a fairy tale she used to tell him to follow the clues to unlock the letter’s meaning. It starts Bird on a journey to find her and understand why she left him.

Our Missing Hearts is a story about family, a theme about which Ng constantly writes. But more than that, it is a story about how the love between parent and child, husband and wife is tested in times of civil unrest. Being Chinese American, Ng is making a statement that Margaret Gardner is more than her ethnic background—she is a mother who loves her child so fiercely that she is willing to do anything to save him from unfounded peril, even pay an ultimate price from speaking her truth.


∞ Author's Profile

Bestselling author Celeste Ng is an American writer of Chinese descent, her parents immigrated from Hong Kong before her birth. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. Famous for her novels Little Fires Everywhere, and Everything I Never Told You, she is a master at telling the story of the nuclear family in all its iterations. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and son.


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