By ANITA SNOW The Associated Press
Celeste Ng takes us to a dystopian future where people are judged on their adherence to American “customs and traditions” and people of Asian descent are viewed with suspicion, sometimes even hatred.
Noah Gardner is a 12-year-old boy living alone with his father, Ethan, three years after his mother, Margaret Miu, left her whereabouts.
After a period of civil violence and economic hardship known as the “Crisis”, marked by widespread looting and burning towns, a law known as PACT – Preserving American Customs and Traditions – forces people to abide by strict rules of behavior.
Noah’s father works to pile up a dwindling stash of books at the college library as more and more books are banned. The only family books at home are the least offensive imaginable: dictionaries.
Nicknamed Bird by his mother, the boy has promised to forget her, but can’t get her out of his mind after he receives a mysterious drawing of cats that recalls the whimsical stories she used to tell him.
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He only realizes later that the occasional protests he sees outside have been inspired by a collection of his mother’s poems as people speak out against the growing reports of children being estranged from parents deemed not American enough, then placed with new families.
In this new order, librarians are heroes, managing an informal network of information about missing children, the details scribbled on scraps of paper and pressed between the pages of the few remaining books.
Ng’s first novel since his hit ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ comes out shortly after the American Library Association warned of increasing book bans in public schools and libraries as groups try more in addition to keeping books centered on racism, sexuality and gender identity out of the hands of young people.
And just as books have long been banned in the United States, children have long since been taken from their families, as an older Choctaw woman who searches for her own grandchild in the book reminds Margaret.
“Do you think this is something new?” the Aboriginal woman asks Margaret, referring to residential schools where boys and girls were “civilized.”