Two Dystopian Novels Imagine What Happens When Fear and Hate Win

By Mrs. McHugh

HHS Librarian/The Hawk advisor

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng can be called a dystopian novel, a genre which imagines a future world destroyed by war, disaster or other catastrophes. But like Internment by Samira Ahmed, the premise is not such a big leap from our current reality. The story imagines our country has gone through a terrible recession and violent unrest, only settled by a law prohibiting anything foreign or unpatriotic. Asian-Americans unfairly bear the blame for the country’s problems, and any criticism of the new rules is quickly squashed: protests are stifled, books are removed from libraries and children are taken from “unfit” parents. Still, a resistance rises, one that uses story and art to amplify voices that are being silenced. It’s not an action-packed book, focusing heavily on the families and friendships torn apart, so it’s not exactly a thriller. But it’s not science fiction or straight realistic either. It’s a bit of a slow build as you follow 12-year-old Bird, his enigmatic mother and those who support the resistance. The author, who is known for family dramas like Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You, says she was inspired by our current divisive politics and the anti-Asian sentiment stirred up by COVID. 

Internment was similarly inspired by politics and American history. In the near future, the U.S. government has imprisoned all Muslim-Americans in internment camps, including 17-year-old Layla and her family. Even though they are citizens, they are stripped of their rights and possessions and considered enemies of the state. This echoes what happened to Japanese-Americans during World War II. It also draws on the hate and fear directed at Muslims after the September 11th attacks committed by radicals in the name of their religion. This is a fast-paced, thrilling story of tolerance and reason triumphing over fear and hate. It also highlights the danger when people stay silent in the face of injustice.

There are countless examples of dystopian novels, including The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and 1984 by George Orwell. But in each of those books, something catastrophic has happened and our world is barely recognizable. In Our Missing Hearts and Internment, the world is very familiar. The good – and the bad – feel very real. Perhaps that is why these books have such a strong impact.

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