Our Missing Hearts Plot Synopsis
Our Missing Hearts revolves around one family, torn apart by a current regime that’s swept across America called PACT. 12 year old Bird Gardner is our protagonist, who lives a quiet existence with his father. A former linguist, Ethan has taught his son not to ask too many questions or stand out for fear of persecution – or worse.
Bird’s estranged mother, Margaret, is a Chinese American poet and deemed by society to be a dangerous terrorist and a menace. However, when Bird receives a cryptic letter with pictures of cats on and a presumed link to his mum, he’s thrust into a quest to try and find her. In doing so, Bird learns more about the world he inhabits – and the lie that’s blanketed him from the awful truth lying in plain view.
What is PACT?
PACT stands for the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act. This is enforced across the US, which promises to “protect American values.” Of course, this also means that anything anti-America is destroyed, including a number of books. This is, of course, a direct parallel to what happened in Nazi Germany.
With the US economy crippled, and the country plunged into financial ruin, fingers are pointed at China as the culprit. PACT was enforced as a result, turning friend to foe as neighbours turned on their Asian citizens.
Who is Margaret? Why is she important to the resistance?
Across the book we learn that Margaret Miu, Bird’s mother, is actually a key part of the rebellion. Unlike the radical terrorist story Bird has been told all his life, Margaret is actually a rather gentle woman who never wanted to get into trouble.
A poet in her free time, one of her poems struck a chord with the public, namely the line “Our Missing Hearts”, which the group have used as code for the missing kids that have been taken. People rally around this and use it as a way of communicating their message. Unfortunately the authorities see this as a sign of being anti-American and rally against Margaret, desperate to take her down no matter what.
As a result, she’s forced to leave Bird and Ethan behind, with the latter keeping up the pretence that his wife is actually a filthy terrorist and they cast her out. It’s a move made to try and protect Bird from being rehoused, which is a very real worry among parents now, and an unfortunately effective tool to silence the masses.
How do the librarians play into the resistance?
Across the course of the novel we learn that the librarians play a vital role to distributing information to Margaret and the others, who use bicycles to relay messages. Using slips of paper in books, the librarians work as the middle-men of sorts, distributing notes to either parents or messengers, with the sole aim here to categorize and try to reunite the snatched children with their biological parents. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
If the librarians hear about a replaced child, they try to figure out who it is and follow any leads they can find. It’s a hit or miss system and only a handful of people across the country are sharing these notes, so there’s only a thin sliver of hope for it being successful. Most librarians have retained this information and use their excellent memory to hold onto it, for fear of PACT finding out.
What does Margaret intend to do with the bottlecaps?
When Bird finally reunites with his mother, he listens to her story (including two long chapters of her history leading up to this moment). After, the pair head out together with a whole load of bottlecaps and hide them around New York City. Bird is confused over the meaning of this to begin with, but he gets into the groove of hiding these things in plain sight. Some are hidden alongside dog poo, others inside grates and even the underside of bins. There’s 1900 of them in total.
Each of these bottlecaps holds a transmitter and a microphone, which are used to amplify a signal from Margaret’s laptop. With her own microphone in hand, she uses this to broadcast across a message to everyone and recite stories for numerous families that have had their children ripped away and relocated. After spending months filling notebooks full of stories, hearing heartbroken parents spill their worries and fears, she’s finally ready to speak her truth.
How does Our Missing Hearts end?
Margaret stays behind to broadcast her message while Domi remains on lookout duties. The plan here is for Margaret to leave at the last possible second, evade the police and be reunited with her family. Unfortunately, things don’t play out that way.
Margaret continues reading out the different stories when the police arrive outside. They swarm on her but just before entering the room, Margaret switches tactics and speaks about her own experiences as a mother, reaching out to Bird on a personal level. She brings up several moments in the past where she “failed” as a mother, including a shattered glass and a bruised head. It’s a passionate and beautiful sentiment to her son, but also something that will bring waves of sympathy from other parents who remember these sort of accidents and the guilt that consumes you as a result.
Just before the police arrest her, Margaret destroys the laptop and burns her notebooks so they can’t be traced. The last we hear from Margaret in the book is in this instance, as police burst into the room and take her away. it would seem she’s not going to have a very pleasant end.
As for the others, Bird and his father are reunited at the cabin, while Sadie decides to keep looking for her parents. Across the US, it would appear that Margaret’s message is starting to seep through, with many people remembering the words and questioning the world they now live in some time later. Will things really change though? Will Sadie find her parents? What happened to Margaret? All these questions are left unanswered, but in the end we’re left with the thin shred of hope that this world will learn from its mistakes and go back to how things were.
Read More: Our Missing Hearts Book Review