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Book club questions for Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng takes an in-depth look at this impactful and timely novel about a mother and son. There will be spoilers so for more context about the story, check out my spoiler-free review first.
Our Missing Hearts is so moving. But it’s such a hard read in many ways between the violent acts and an overall somber tone.
That said, I do feel it’s one of the best books I’ve read in 2022. There are so many layers and much to discuss.
All of the main characters will stick with me for a long time.
Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. His mother Margaret, a Chinese American poet, left the family when he was nine years old without a trace. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, his family’s life has been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic.
Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.
Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact.
Book Club Questions for Our Missing Hearts
- What are your thoughts about the way the U.S. is presented in the novel and what similarities do you see to our version? Do you view the story as dystopian fiction?
- Could something like the PACT act be passed here?
- Why did Bird embark on this journey to find his mother? What answers did he hope to find?
- Throughout the story, Bird remembers folktales that his mother used to tell him as a child. What was the significance of these folktales to this story as a whole?
- After Bird’s mother leaves, his father ensures that he goes by Noah. But once he is reunited with his mother and she calls him Bird again, he starts to finally relax in his own skin. Let’s talk about how a name ties to our whole identity.
- Once they’re reunited, Margaret recounts her journey to Bird. She paints a very different picture from what the media has portrayed her—she was not an activist by choice. What were your thoughts as you read Margaret’s backstory?
- Why did Margaret’s poems struck a chord with the protest movement?
- The government considers Margaret a threat and she has to leave the family immediately without a truly proper goodbye to Bird. Do you feel Margaret was left with no choice?
- How did meeting with Marie’s parents change Margaret’s perspective on activism and her role in it?
- Why did so many people turn a blind eye to the violence against the Asian community? Why was the Asian community targeted?
- While Margaret could have gone away with Bird and Ethan in hiding—she felt it was her duty to tell the stories of the taken children. What would have done if you were Margaret? Why was it important for her to tell the stories?
- What do you think happened to Margaret in the end?
- Do you feel Margaret’s initiative had an impact on the people who heard it? Did it change anything or do you think things remained the same?
- What did Bird’s future look like? Was he able to fully piece together his mother’s writing? Do you think his friend Sadie ever found her parents?
- Did the ending feel hopeful or somber? What was your impression of the ending overall?
- What do you feel are some of the key takeaway and lessons from this story?
Since there’s so much to talk about this one, I’ve created a separate spoiler filled discussion about the ending here.
Hope you enjoyed book club question for Our Missing Hearts! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
Another impactful story that will generate a ton of discussion is Mad Honey.
Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising their beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined that she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.
Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start.
And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can trust him completely. . . .
Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in Ash, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.
Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.
Check out my book club questions here.
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Earlier this year, I read The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan and it shares a similar dystopian outlook as Our Missing Hearts.
Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.
Until Frida has a very bad day.
The state has its eye on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgement, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.
Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.
Check out my book club questions here.