Our Missing Hearts: Good, good, good.

Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts showed up on many of the best of lists for 2022, and with good reason. The plot, which imagines a near-future where economic disaster strikes America, and in an effort to curb widespread unemployment, rioting and chaos, the government introduces the ‘PACT’ law – Protect America something-something. The law – and the surrounding punditry and storytelling about its purpose – places blame for the chaos on China, and so by extension (of course) all Asian-Americans are suspect. Included in the law is the power for the government to forcibly take children from the homes of those suspected of harbouring pro-China tendencies. And so the novel explores how one family, one boy – Bird, and one mother navigate a world where children can be, and are, routinely taken from their families ‘for their own good.’

The book is aware, of course, of the essential parallel to current and recent examples of this kind of supposed benevolent government action – residential schools in Canada never far from the readers’ mind – where too often and too easily the public actively ignores state sanctioned kidnapping because it isn’t happening to us. And so part of the plot focuses on how activists use art, and stories in particular, to make the truth of the stolen children impossible to ignore. It is metafiction done quite well.

I did like the book, found the writing great – poetic and punchy, though I found the plot lagged somewhat in the middle. I loved the imagined role for librarians in the novel – those great keepers of information and those willing to make sure information is made available to those who ask for it.

Like Little Fires Everywhere I suspect many will read this and chat it up at a book club (or two). If you do, let me know what your group thinks. If nothing else, the book makes the case that the very idea of a book club could be a subversive one.


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