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‘Our Missing Hearts’ shows the perils of unchecked patriotism and the power of love

Kieran Kesner

Celeste Ng’s newest novel, “Our Missing Hearts,” transports us to a far-too-probable dystopian future. In this world, the U.S. government has instituted something called PACT — the Preserving American Cultures and Traditions Act. It promises to lift America out of a financial and political crisis, and it encourages bigotry against anyone of Asian heritage because of China’s role in the global economy.

Here, we meet 12-year-old Bird — or at least that’s what his mother calls him. Bird was 9 when his mother left home without explanation. As the novel opens, a letter arrives addressed to Bird, and he knows it’s a message from his mom. That launches an odyssey that has Bird witnessing cruelty and dodging danger in hopes of reuniting with his mother and getting some explanation of why she disappeared.

Bird’s classmate Sadie tells him his mother wrote a poem that has become a rallying cry for a resistance movement against PACT, which is separating children from their parents under the guise of protecting them from harmful environments. Sadie herself has been separated from her family and wants to expose the cruelties of PACT.

Ng’s last novel, “Little Fires Everywhere,” tackled the complexities of interracial adoption and the false utopia of American suburbs. This one goes even further, its message and characters far more powerful and profound. It tackles the topics of tyranny, nationalism and xenophobia by putting them in the context of real people and real lives. Bird’s father, for example, is a deeply developed character who brilliantly illustrates the struggle between peace and justice.

“Our Missing Hearts” shows us the perils of unchecked patriotism and the power of empathy and love. Don’t be surprised if, like “Little Fires Everywhere,” it moves in short order to the big or little screen.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.