Review: Our Missing Hearts

I have not been able to put Our Missing Hearts in a category. Every time I pick it up and turn it around in my mind, I see a different facet that makes me think of it in a new way that leaves the other interpretations valid. Celeste Ng has crafted a work that holds multitudes and feels tight.

The blurb for the book that I’d roll out to get someone to read it is “In a dystopian near-future a tween receives a cryptic message from his mother who he hasn’t seen in years that spurs him to dangerous action.” Pretty much every word in that sentence has a page of explanation by the end of the book, though.

The dystopian aspects are real, but the people in it are equally real. Lots of dystopian fiction is pollyanna-ish in offering solutions or pedantic in sealing society’s doom. Out Missing Hearts strikes a remarkable balance of showing how people create and resist oppressive states. Understanding how everyone is motivated here doesn’t lighten the load of the dystopia entirely, but it also underscores how decency and compassion are equally inevitable.

Hearts is also very concerned with stories and lore. The stories we tell one another or ourselves. The stories that the powerful tell the ruled. How those stories pass through time. It’s no surprise that librarians are big players.

Ng also walks the walk of storytelling. Her writing is perfectly tuned to what I think she’s trying to do. I often collect memorable passages when I read, but I found the writing here all cohered into a whole. There were lots of excellent phrases and passages, but all of them were part and parcel of the story in ways that removing them diminished their power.

She also seems to take delight in changing the tone and content of story she is telling. If a parent were to pick up Hearts and read the first 50 pages or so, they could easily mistake this for a YA novel. It is not. But I also like the idea that a child could read their first adult novel because a parent failed to get the whole story.

Front to back an excellent novel with significant depth.

Strongly Recommended.

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