Review: The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay. Determined to find her, Cee devotes her days to building a boat from junk parts scavenged inland, doing everything in her power to survive until the day she gets off the island and reunites with her sister.

In a world apart, 16-year-old STEM prodigy Kasey Mizuhara is also living a life of isolation. The eco-city she calls home is one of eight levitating around the world, built for people who protected the planet―and now need protecting from it. With natural disasters on the rise due to climate change, eco-cities provide clean air, water, and shelter. Their residents, in exchange, must spend at least a third of their time in stasis pods, conducting business virtually whenever possible to reduce their environmental footprint. While Kasey, an introvert and loner, doesn’t mind the lifestyle, her sister Celia hated it. Popular and lovable, Celia much preferred the outside world. But no one could have predicted that Celia would take a boat out to sea, never to return.

Now it’s been three months since Celia’s disappearance, and Kasey has given up hope. Logic says that her sister must be dead. But as the public decries her stance, she starts to second guess herself and decides to retrace Celia’s last steps. Where they’ll lead her, she does not know. Her sister was full of secrets. But Kasey has a secret of her own.

Rating: 2.5/5

Review

Firstly, how gorgeous is that cover? I love seeing BIPOC women front and centre on book covers, and the art style caught my eye right from the beginning, as it hinted at mysteries. There are a lot of mysteries in this book, but unfortunately The Ones We’re Meant to Find didn’t capture my imagination as much as I would have liked.

This is a hard book to summarise, but The Ones We’re Meant to Find is part cli-fi thriller, part wilderness survival story, each one navigated by a different sister. Firstly, shout out to He for writing a story that is ultimately about individual self-worth at its core, followed by sisterhood. There is a romance (which I found a little too insta-lovely to really enjoy), but the thematic focus of this story is on what it means to be a person, with your own independent thoughts, desires, and sense of agency and purpose. These are themes I would love to see explored more of in YA fiction, and I thought He raised some really interesting moral and ethical dilemmas that I am still thinking about (but are hard to talk through without spoilers).

In terms of the actual stories, I actually enjoyed the survival story, for the most part – Cee’s determination to survive immediately shone through, and her coping mechanisms were both uplifting and heartbreaking; in one scene near the beginning, Cee tries to make friends with the boat she has built to take her away from the island, which she lovingly calls Hubert. My only real criticism here is that occasionally there was a little too much focus on elements that were ultimately nonconsequential for the story, which bogged down the pacing a little.

Meanwhile, I had no idea what was going on in most of Kasey’s scenes. There was a lot of techno-babble about stasis pods and holograms, and a lot of world-building about the various natural disasters taking place outside the eco-city where she lives. The first half of Kasey’s story ultimately felt like a giant info-dump that still didn’t answer some pretty basic questions: how far into the future is this book set? And how did things end up like this? Kasey’s story (and Cee’s) did get significantly more interesting in the second half, as the mysteries started to unravel and the thriller aspect ramped up, with lots of twists and turns, but it was unfortunately too little too late for me. I also think some of the twists would have benefited from me being more engaged with the world-building, as I think I missed some key clues.

On Kasey, something I also think is worth highlighting is that one could easily read Kasey as being neurodivergent (I certainly did). She constantly prioritises logic and science-based explanations over emotional reactions, and regularly laments her struggles in relating to her peers and understanding the nuances of various social interactions. This made her a hard character to read about sometimes because I was, in turn, struggling to relate to how cold and calculating Kasey was about almost every scenario she found herself in. But, I also wish she had been made explicitly neurodivergent in the text; it felt very odd to me that in a world with such advanced technology, including huge advancements in medical science, and in a story so focused on how we perceive ourselves and the world around us, that this wasn’t the case.

I really wish I’d loved this book, but unfortunately, sometimes it isn’t meant to be. I do think others will get more out of it though, especially those who love sci-fi thrillers and unique genre-blends.

Note: I received an ARC from Text Publishing. The Ones We’re Meant to Find will be released on 4 May 2021.

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