Tag Archives: Dystopian

Our Missing Hearts, by Celeste Ng

Bird’s mom was a poet who read him fairy stories and taught him to work in the garden. Now she is gone, and Bird lives alone with his father, who says that Bird must now be called Noah. His father used to be an etymology professor, but now he shelves books in the university library so that they can share a dorm suite. Bird doesn’t understand why they had to move out of their house.

Margaret was pregnant with Bird shortly after The Crisis, when no one had work and people scrounged through abandoned stores and trash cans for food and clothing. Everything was better now, though, and everyone was patriotic. Very carefully patriotic. Margaret and her new husband were living in a rosy glow with a little house and a baby on the way, so they were able to ignore the posters in all of the shop windows about PACT, the Preserving American Culture and Traditions act. After all, it was targeted toward anti-American Asians, and they were good Americans, even though Margaret’s parents were from China.

 Ng’s newest novel is frightening not just as dystopian fiction, but because so many of her details can be seen in our culture today. Having survived a slow-rolling crisis not long ago, we can see how easy it would be for a desperate nation to accept unthinkable levels of authoritarian government, and once that regime is in place, how difficult it would be to loosen its grip on power. We can all flatter ourselves that we would resist tyranny to the death until the authorities play their ultimate card: they will take away your children. Everyone in Ng’s world will give up any of their rights if they can recover their missing hearts.

I almost hesitated to read this novel because I worried that it could not live up to Little Fires Everywhere, which I loved and reviewed here. Our Missing Hearts is every bit as good, although completely different. It doesn’t hurt that it is a love letter to librarians, who play a heroic role throughout. The audiobook is read by Lucy Liu, whose calm voice is often filled with emotion whether she reads from Bird’s or Margaret’s perspective. Celeste Ng reads the foreword and the epilogue.

A dystopian novel that slowly reveals its shocking details, Our Missing Hearts packs an emotional punch and will leave you shaken. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I listened to an audiobook of this novel. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera

Petra wanted to be a cuentista, a storyteller, just like her abuelita. When she boards the spacecraft with her scientist parents and her little brother, Javier, she comforts herself that at least she can spend the 380 years of their flight in stasis with all of the world’s mythology and stories being downloaded into her brain. When they arrive at their new planet, she will be the cuentista for a whole new civilization. Then, just as she is being strapped into her pod, she finds out that her parents said no to the storytelling download. She will just have the much more practical botany lessons for the whole flight. Her pod fills with gel, her body functions are stopped, and she is supposed to be asleep. But she realizes that she is still conscious, and there is no way to tell the Caretaker that she is not asleep. She can’t call out, wave her hand, or even move her eyes.

Three spaceships are leaving Earth because a great comet is on a collision course with the planet. The survivors are chosen because of their skills that will be useful for a fresh start on a new Goldilocks planet, but some were selected to live out normal lives—working, caring for the stasis pods, reproducing, and dying—just as they would have on Earth. But 380 years is a long time, and people get ideas, and the isolated culture that lands on the planet may bear little resemblance to the ones who boarded the ship long ago.

The Last Cuentista won both the Newbery Medal and the Pura Belpré Award this past January. From the title and the cover, I was expecting to dive into a traditional South American story with magical realism, but just a few pages in, we were boarding a spacecraft! Somehow, Higuera’s Latina protagonist was able to transport her Hispanic culture into a futuristic setting. The story is filled with the tension of most sci-fi tales dealing with survival in alien landscapes, but the more Orwellian terror of ruthless power structures is what propels our heroine into action.

Higuera uses both the past and the future to show that, although our history is filled with war and tragedy, human beings have also created art, music, and loving traditions that should not be abandoned. The richness of our past is the foundation for building a beautiful and meaningful future.

Highly recommended for young teen to adult.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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