There’s a dreaminess from The Ones We’re Meant to Find, even from the very cover, all soft edges and rolling waves. That sense never really lets up—even though it gets considerably more complicated in the middle—and in the end the yearning and saltwater mean as much, or more, than before. It’s a lovely exploration into sisterly love, autonomy, and embracing your own self.
But that isn’t obvious from the beginning. From the start, we know as little as one of our two main characters, Cee, who remembers almost nothing about who she was before she washed up on an otherwise-deserted island but knows she needs to find her younger sister, Kay, somehow. The boat she’s building is the key, she’s sure, despite the protestations of the island’s resident robot, and when it sinks, she quickly starts looking for ways to build a new one. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Kasey is missing her older sister, Celia, who disappeared in the ocean mysteriously and whose vanishing act has made her a sort of celebrity in the high-tech VR world that makes up much of society in this future where the planet is ravaged by climate change.
Are they looking for the same people? Yes. It’s a pretty easy connection, one that Joan He isn’t trying to be too clever about. Because He has bigger fish to fry.
Kasey’s been in trouble from authorities before, but nothing like what could happen to her if anyone finds out the lengths she’s going to in order to find Celia. When she finds a mysterious older guy who says he dated Celia—and who is in possession of the chip that recorded her memories—Kasey finds a new connection worth bending the rules for. And there will be more rules that need bending or breaking as the climate situation worsens. On the island, Cee is dealing with a new visitor, too, who is likewise missing his memories. And as her own memory returns, she has to re-evaluate what she thought she knew about herself and her so-called futile mission to find her sister.
My teen years were rough enough I don’t like to be reminded of them, so I don’t dip into the world of YA as much as I probably should (although as this excellent take points out, maybe it’s okay that I usually leave that genre to the youths).
But this was a worthy dip into teen angst and nebulous self-identity, particularly since He takes a different approach to those crucial adolescent issues. When you’re growing up, it feels like the world around you is changing just as you are changing, often getting more bleak with each revelation; in Kasey’s case, this is true on a more literal level than most kids experiences. Likewise, Cee’s questions about who she is and who she can trust have steeper stakes than the average high schooler, but it’s relatable stuff. And both sisters have to come to terms with who the other really is—an ongoing process even with the closest siblings. Even as someone thankfully past that time in my life, those are themes that resonate.
The plot and themes transcend serviceable through He’s prose, which rushes over and saturates everything in that aforementioned dreaminess. (I am desperately trying not to pour out an ocean’s worth of water puns, and, obviously, not succeeding, so I’ll say as little as possible about that.) Both Cee and Kasey’s voices are distinct, and the organization between the events in chapters is particularly ingenious—often where one of Cee’s chapters ends, Kasey’s begins with passable continuity, reinforcing the theme about sisters following one another. I’d love to say something else about that nifty little narrative trick, but it’s a minor spoiler that’s too well done for me to ruin it for anybody. Pain and heartbreak of different types bubbles up through the story; this is no fair romp in a park. But it’s so beautiful alongside that pain that even as the hurt grows and the plot takes several sharp turns, you’ll want to keep reading. Chapter after chapter, page after page, following Cee and Kasey as they find themselves and each other in ways they, and we, did not expect.