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Monday, January 23, 2023

Two Powerful Reads to Start 2023

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

Welcome to 2023 and a new year of reading. This month’s Book Report has two books- one fiction, one nonfiction- that, although published in 2022, will start your year off right.

Celeste Ng continues her streak of writing outstanding novels (Everything I Never Told You, Little Fires Everywhere) with her latest and most powerful novel yet, Our Missing Hearts.

Bird is a twelve year-old boy who lives with his father on campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father used to work as a linguist professor, but now he shelves books in the campus library.

Bird’s mother Margaret is a Chinese-American poet, whose most famous poem, “Our Missing Hearts”, unintentionally became a rallying cry for people protesting the US government policy of removing children from families deemed “unpatriotic.”

In order to keep her son safe, Margaret left the family three years ago. Bird’s father disavowed his wife and he has warned Bird to keep his head down, avoid the police and military, and obey all authority. Many people blame the Chinese for the economic downturn that destroyed the global and American economy, and Asians have become targets for hatred and violence.

When Bird receives a letter that consists of only a drawing, he believes it is from his mother and sets out to find her. In his journey he discovers a network of librarians who work underground to try and reunite children taken from their families by the government.

Our Missing Hearts is about a mother’s powerful love for her son, and a cautionary tale about how dangerous mob mentality can be. People quickly become willing to blame anyone who looks different for their own troubles. The books also touches upon the dangers of banning books, and the slippery slope where that can quickly lead.

I give Our Missing Hearts my highest recommendation, it has such relevance for what is happening today. It is insightful and moving.

I hadn’t heard of Jennette McCurdy, but her memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died has caused quite a stir, landing at the top of the bestseller list for months. McCurdy starred in the popular TV series “iCarly” as young teen, and her book is just astonishing. 

Her mother Deb wanted Jennette to be an actress, and Jennette wanted nothing more than to please her mother. The only girl (she has three older brothers) in her family, all her mother’s dashed dreams of stardom are poured into Jennette. She is a stage mother run amok.

At the age of six, Deb began taking Jennette on auditions for commercials. She bullied a successful children’s agent into taking Jennette on as a client. Jennette began working fairly steadily, and because Jennette could cry real tears easily, she became the go-to child actress when anyone needed a young child to cry on camera.

Deb’s entire identity was wrapped up in her daughter’s success as an actress. The family had difficult financial times, and soon Jennette became the breadwinner for the entire family. Her earnings kept the creditors at bay. Deb also had health issues, and her battle with cancer left the children, especially Jennette, scarred and scared that her mother could die, which Deb manipulated to her advantage.

Jennette worked her way up, doing small parts on TV shows, like “CSI”, and in low budget feature films. Eventually as a teen she auditioned for and won a co-starring role in “iCarly”, which became a monster hit on the Nickelodeon children’s network. Jennette became a popular teen star.

All this success makes Deb keep a tighter reign on Jennette, but as Jennette grew older, she resented her mother and her mother’s emotional and physical abuse. Jennette wasn’t allowed to date, and she was naive for someone her age. She finally found a taste of freedom when she went to Nashville to record an album and her mother had to stay behind for medical treatments.

Jennette’s life is filled with her mother’s mental illness and possessiveness, and eventually lead Jennette to addiction, bad relationships, and a dangerous eating disorder. Her description of her spiraling downwards into alcoholism is harrowing. 

If you read Matthew Perry’s memoir Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing about his drug and alcohol addition, this is your next read. I couldn’t put it down.

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng- A+

Published by Penguin Press

Hardcover, $29, 335 pages

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy- A+

Published by Simon & Schuster

Hardcover, $27.99, 304 pages

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