Celeste Ng’s new novel was one of my favorites of 2022. Our Missing Hearts is about the power of information and storytelling in the face of injustice. The story follows Bird, a lonely kid in a near future U.S. where laws preserve American culture. Authorities censor books viewed as unpatriotic and relocate the children of people seen as dissidents. The government tears families apart as they lose their children and have no way to find them again — their missing hearts.
Bird’s mother was a poet whose work inspired resistance, and her book was banned. To protect her family, she disappeared. Bird knows not to talk about her or ask questions. Several years later Bird receives a cryptic letter he knows is from his mother. He goes on a quest to find the clues she left and find her with the help of a network of resistance librarians. Our Missing Hearts is very different from Ng’s previous novels, but it’s just as well-written and unforgettable. While you wait for your copy, check out these reads about resistance, freedom, and the power of books and truth.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
It was not long ago that Asian Americans were targeted, relocated and separated from each other due to fear and intolerance in the United States. During World War II many thousands of people of Japanese descent, most of whom were American citizens, were forcibly removed from their homes.
Actor George Takei of Star Trek fame shares his first-hand experience in a “relocation center” in his illustrated memoir They Called Us Enemy. He spent years under armed guard held behind barbed wire for the crime of being a Japanese American. He was only 4 years old when his family was forced to leave their home. Available with no holds on Hoopla as an ebook.
Dear Miss Breed by Joanne Oppenheim
This book is in the kids nonfiction section, but I encourage adults interested in this topic to it check out. Clara Breed was a children’s librarian at the San Diego Public Library who knew many Japanese American young people. Breed spoke out against the injustice when people were relocated. She also sent letters, books and other needed items to many children and their families in the camps. Many wrote back to tell her about their experience.
You’ll read actual letters imprisoned children wrote to Miss Breed, for a first-hand account of their lives behind barbed wire. It’s a book you’ll never forget. Thinking about it again brings tears to my eyes. Available with no holds on Hoopla as an digital audiobook if you like to listen. Check out the book to see photos, letters and art made by the children who wrote Miss Breed.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
In Our Missing Hearts librarians form a sort of underground, passing on accurate information and creating sanctuary. For another near-future read featuring librarians fighting against censorship and inequality, check out Gailey’s novel of gunslinging women who defy the government to share Unapproved Materials on women’s health.
The setting feels like the old west, but the story takes place in the future not the past. In this future fathers and husbands determine women’s lives. Women have little choice beyond marriage and having children. Esther stows away in a librarian’s book wagon to escape an arranged marriage after the woman she loves is executed for possession of forbidden printed material. Esther finds life beyond the rigid expectations of her community, with a group of women dedicated to sharing information and creating refuge in a world gone mad. After all, that’s what librarians are all about. Listen to the digital audiobook on Hoopla with no holds.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
For another read about the power of books and stories to transport us beyond place and time and connect us, check out Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. The book follows five characters in three different timelines. It sounds complicated, but Doerr weaves their stories together seamlessly.
In the 15th century, Anna and Omeir are trying to survive the siege and fall of Constantinople on opposite sides of the wall. Zeno and Seymour cross paths in a public library in present-day Idaho. In the future Konstance is traveling through space on a vessel headed for a new world. In all three timelines, the characters carry forward a story called “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” The folio survives war, weather and time. It helps readers “slip the trap” and hold on to hope in the darkness. Doerr’s novel does the same for us as we escape into its pages. Cloud Cuckoo Land is dedicated to “the librarians then, now, and in the years to come.”
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
Our Missing Hearts demonstrates that with a couple of laws changed just a bit, the lives of people and families can be changed forever. Red Clocks is a near-future read that considers what might happen if “family protection” laws continue to change in the United States. Abortion and in-vitro fertilization are illegal. Only married people are considered suitable to be parents. Zumas considers the lives of several women, including a pregnant teenager and a single, middle-aged teacher who wants to be a mom.
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
In this near-future mothers who are lacking are separated from their children and retrained in government reform programs. The mothers are required to care for doll children with artificial intelligence. The dolls behave in challenging ways to test the women. They must prove they have the right maternal instincts to be trusted with their children again. The women are constantly watched and corrected to a high and shifting government standard. This story raises questions about parenting, free choice, and the often impossible standards set for women in a watchful and judgmental society.