Review: The Ones We're Meant to Find - Joan He
Genre: Sci-fi, YA
Published: Roaring Brooks Publishing, 2021
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars
“The problem with oceans? They always seem smaller from the shore.”
From the author of The Decendants of the Crane, this YA sci-fi novel quickly made it to my most-anticipated-releases for 2021, based on its synopsis, strong coatal setting and its stunning cover design. The story had me intrigued from beginning to end and caught myself thinking about it between sittings. However, there were a few reasons why it wasn't the 5-star read I hoped it'd be.
Told in dual perspective, we follow two sisters, separated by an ocean in a post-apocalyptic world, on a desperate quest to reunite. Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years now, with no memories of her prior life. The one memory, and motivator she has is the image of her sister Kay: the one she’s meant to find across the horizon. Crafting boats from scapmetal and matresses, and only conversing with a broken robot for company, Cee sets out on a desperate quest.
Meanwhile Kasey, an introverted STEM-prodigy, lives in an eco-city 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. Wrecked with longing for her missing sister Celia, who couldn’t handle the claustrophobia of the eco-city-life style, Kay looks to the shores, hoping against hope to see her sister reappear.
What I loved:
It blows my mind that this is only Joan He’s sophomore novel, and clearly shows her incredible talent as an author. As with Decendants of the Crane, her superb writing and feeling for creating a vivid setting are the novels biggests selling point for me. Not only am I a sucker for anything with a coastal-setting, the concept of the eco-cities protecting humans from a flooded world, wrecked by climate change just speaks to my imagination. Joan He’s stunningly lush and descriptive writing manages to create this immersive world that speaks to the readers imagination, without the need to meticulously describe or explain every detail. Joan He never tells us, sometimes shows us, but often creates the conditions for us to be able to imagine. I love when an SFF-author can do that.
That same talent as an author shines through in her characters: easily distiguishable by the use of first-person for Cee and third-person for Kay, and their different narrative voices. Although I liked both their narratives, I clearly preffered Cees over Kays.
When it comes to the story, you can tell it’s all well thought out. There is clear direction from the very start, and although it moves at a very leisurely pace, it plants the seeds of its revelations every step of the way, creating the set up for a very interesting conversation later on.
What I didn’t love:
Some of the things that work in the book’s favour also form its biggest downfalls however. First of all: that pacing I mentioned walks the very thin line between “leisurely” and “plain dull and slow”, and often ends ends up on the wrong side of it. For context: the actual storyline only picks up around 55% into the story, which isn’t a problem in itself, but it may turn off some readers who lose their patience long before. This book is very slow, and reads more on the contemplative/speculative side of sci-fi than the more traditional action-packed one. Unfortunately it doesn’t do what contemplative sci-fi does best: dive deep into the themes at hand.
That brings me to my biggest problem: the entire novel hinges on a “twist” that is so heavily forshadowed, predictable and overdone in sci-fi that I’d pretty much guessed it after the first few chapters. It wasn’t a problem for me, as it opened the door to discussion on a lot of interesting topics like humanity, ambition and placing another persons well-being over your own. This is where slower speculative sci-fi usually shines, and although the beginning was there, I wanted a lot more depth than we ended up getting.
Without the deep emotional or contemplative pay-off, ánd without an action-packed plot, this novel is at risk of being neither here or there, and I feel that’s the reason for many of the mixed reviews.
Overall I personally enjoyed this novel: I love the “softer sci-fi” narrative, the beautiful writing-style and the vivid setting. I rarely wish for standalones to be part of a series, but in this case I found myself wishing for a sequel to explore a bit more of this interesting world, its history and themes. Athough that might be the sign of an interesting world, it may also be the sign of an unsatisfying standalone with missed potential…
Many thanks to Roaring Brook Press for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.