How will our world change in the face of climate change? Will humanity succumb to extinction or pioneer the technology needed to survive? Joan He’s masterpiece sophomore young adult fiction novel “The Ones We’re Meant to Find” depicts a world at the crossroads of those two possibilities.
As climate disasters intensify and toxicity levels rise, people worldwide desperately compete for admission into floating eco-cities using a rank system based on ecological footprint. The self-sustaining technological marvels limit citizens to a more contained lifestyle. However, over a third of their time must be spent within a stasis pod, which leaves people in a state of suspended animation — and they can instead log into a virtual world.
The novel introduces its socially awkward, analytical protagonist Kasey in this futuristic setting — immersed in her virtual “moving-on” party, three months after her older sister, Celia, went missing. Her disappearance is unheard of in the eco-cities, where everyone is implanted with a technologically advanced “Intraface” that has rendered mobile phones obsolete.
Alternating chapters between Kasey and Cee, our other determined, spunky protagonist who has been stranded on an island for three years, much of He’s novel involves slow plot movement and rapid worldbuilding.
Kasey’s chapters provide detailed explanations about her sister’s disappearance, the eco-city system and incidents from her past. They tend to be more long-winded and complex because of Kasey’s futuristic lifestyle and her highly logical, almost robotic way of thinking.
On the other hand, Cee details her daily life on the island, but mainly explores the concept of memory. Despite having no recollection of how she wound up stranded, she’s haunted by her memories of her sister and returns time and time again to the shore of the ocean, desperate to find a way home.
“Find Kay” is her constant mantra, echoing the voice in her dreams. The reader feels drawn to this enigmatic, optimistic character trapped in circumstances she barely understands.
While the novel is unquestionably focused on the sisters, its side characters are cleverly developed and all seem to have a role in both the past and the present of Kasey and Cee’s lives. As the reader progresses in the story, discoveries and old memories paint each character in a new light, adding complexity and a sense of intrigue. Each relationship is shaped by secrets that reveal themselves in unexpected ways.
Mirroring its structure, the novel explores contrasting themes that pull the reader in different directions. In Kasey’s life alone, she must struggle with her inability to explore science to her heart’s content, the disappearance of a sister she never really understood and childhood events that tore her family apart — leaving her unable to comprehend her own emotions.
Despite her memory loss, Cee seems to have a firmer grasp on her own identity than Kasey. Yet as the novel unfolds, new information arises that challenges her worldview and priorities.
Meanwhile, their world struggles to move forward as environmental disasters, political chaos and a lack of accountability endanger them all. Do good intentions matter? Does free will exist? And do we, the human race, really deserve to survive? Each character has their own answer.
The book transcends the traditional sci-fi genre to become a more relevant commentary on individual agendas, artificial intelligence and the future of our planet. While some sections, particularly in the first half, drag along without much plot development, He’s heavy reliance on the power of memory and relationships between characters makes the book a compelling and unique read, particularly for those who are passionate about the future of science.
Full of complex characters, unforeseen twists and dangers that seem to be only slightly removed from our present-day society, “The Ones We’re Meant to Find” is a novel that raises more questions than it answers.