Book Review: The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He – An Unsteady, Slow Start Gives Way to a Thrilling and Thematic Story about Sisters on the Brink

Blurb:

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those commited to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most.

I was provided an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

True to its promises, The Ones We’re Meant to Find is indeed twisty and surprising, and the themes explored in this book are one of the most confronting and alarming that I have read in recent memory. (The comparisons to Black Mirror are accurate.) While I liked The Ones We’re Meant to Find well enough and I feel that others should give this book a read, my thoughts about The Ones We’re Meant to Find are multi-faceted and complex – which I will try and do justice in today’s book review.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find follows two very different Asian sisters. There’s Cee, who wakes up on a deserted island, with no memory of her life before; all that she remembers is that she has a sister, and she has to find her. And then there’s Kasey, a STEM prodigy and resident of Earth’s few remaining sanctuaries that protect its inhabitants from the natural disasters of the outside world – and may be able to save humanity pending its inevitable destruction.

This book centers on a compelling mystery, followed by a story that devolves following the implications of the mystery revealed. This book review is entirely spoiler-free but I’ll structure this book review by discussing the first half versus the second half. So, let’s talk about the first half.

The first half: slow, sluggish, and oversaturated

I was excited going into this book. Being a fan of Black Mirror, I was immediately compelled and was eager to see what discourse this book would offer. Told in alternating narratives between the two sisters, we are immediately presented with a fascinating mystery: Cee is lost at sea and despite her every attempt to escape and return to her sister, she struggles to escape, damned to a repetitive routine of fighting for her survival. Pair that with Kasey’s narrative, where the central force of her story is that she refuses to believe that her sister is dead. I started asking myself a lot of questions – which I love to do while reading – and I was engaged. The Ones We’re Meant to Find is cerebral and atmospheric; there’s an unsettling sense of eeriness pervasive in both perspectives, in the way that both sisters feel very out of sync with each other, leading to the ever-present question of why and what happened?

I accepted, as you do with stories with a mystery moving towards a climactic reveal, that good things take time; that good stories unfurl slowly. Regrettably, the first half of The Ones We’re Meant to Find is incredibly slow – and, unfortunately, to its detriment. There is a delicate balance between offering morsels by way of building anticipation versus feeling a dull ache of dissatisfaction because the crumbs are not enough. Unfortunately, I sat in the latter camp. Atmospheric, yes, cerebral, yes, but the sluggish pace of the story muted the impact of the story and mystery’s developments.

I thought long and hard about why the story feels like it moves at a lethargic pace, despite the fact that ‘things were happening’. And I think it’s this: there is a lot of ‘padding’ in the storytelling. In other words, there were a lot of redundant moments in the story, that, rather than add something intriguing or meaningful, felt like they were ‘fillings’ between the clues and reveals of the mystery. Though this ‘padding’ comprises mostly of worldbuilding and character development, they ultimately felt inconsequential and bloated in its vague details. Rather than being kept on my toes, I felt bogged down by the overwhelming details in the story. The bittersweet thing for me is that He is a great writer and I got the sense that she could have articulated and conveyed all the things that were explicitly stated or recounted in more subtle ways. As a consequence, reveals and clues didn’t feel revelatory and triumphant; they felt overdue and late, lost in a sea of words of no real consequence to the overarching story.

I was bored and pessimistic about how the story could change my mind, wondering how it could possibly get better. And then, at 57% of the story, the ‘twist’ is revealed – a reveal so big and so significant that it changed the course of the story and, unexpectedly, my opinion of the book.

The second half: where the story takes off; its flight is thrilling, spectacular

57% is late in a book for things to get interesting, I know. (Though 57% isn’t ‘half’ per se, I’m loosely defining the ‘second half’ to mean the events in the story following a huge revelation and turning point in the story.) Nonetheless, whether you enjoy the second half of the book will depend on whether you feel invested in the story and what would happen. I, despite my opinions of the first half, was invested! Putting aside the criticisms I had of the story’s worldbuilding, which I feel was still an issue across the entirety of the book, I genuinely loved the second half and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’ll have to be vague, because I don’t want to spoil what the reveal is, but it’s at the second half where I feel like everything that was alluded to started to come together beautifully. The characters immediately become more engaging as we learn how the reveal shapes their development and actions for the remainder of the story. The story takes off, moving with brilliant momentum, and it is marvellous and thrilling to see how the story takes on this tone that feels desperately hopeful yet pessimistic. The blurry, vague questions alluded in the first half that never really hit at first felt concrete and impactful. Things fall together, and I was utterly transfixed from the second half to the very last page. (One may argue that the beginning of the book was deliberately slow in order for the second half to be the rollercoaster that it was. I still stand by that the pacing was too slow and boring, and did not work for me.)

I enjoy books with strong themes, which is why I think The Ones We’re Meant to Find was ultimately an enjoyable read for me. The second half of the book was brilliantly thematic and I really enjoyed the ways in which the story explored environmentalism, late-stage capitalism, existentialism, and even an unexpected exploration of human nature in the context of brave hope and fatalistic misanthropy. The future envisioned in The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a terrifying one – a place where technology is tied to control and identity, surveillance is inherent and privacy is a scarce privilege. There are also some deeply personal themes too, such as the potency of love, reconciling decisions and feelings of love against logic, and also the intimate bond of two sisters, where a sister is defined by her other. (There’s more, but sharing that will be a spoiler, so you will have to read it to find out!)

MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED, WITH CAVEATS

Though my feelings towards The Ones We’re Meant to Find are split down the middle, I do feel that this is a book that people can enjoy as a whole. While the slow pace and oversaturated padding of the first half impeded my enjoyment significantly at first, the second half takes off with plenty of character action, thematic developments, and a compelling conflict of morals to make up for it. Despite my mixed feelings towards The Ones We’re Meant to Find, the book is nonetheless a showcase of He’s writing prowess; I’m looking forward to reading whatever she writes in the future.

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: Told in alternating narratives, one sister finds herself lost in a deserted island, while the other is tasked to save humanity.

Perfect for: Readers who love twisty stories with a twist like Black Mirror; readers who like stories with a sudden tonal shift.

Think twice if: You’re not a fan of slow-paced books.

Genre: young adult science-fiction, dystopia

Trigger/content warning: blood mentions, death of a loved one, physical violence, environmental apocalyptic themes

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He – An Unsteady, Slow Start Gives Way to a Thrilling and Thematic Story about Sisters on the Brink

  1. Great review CW! I have seen this book on NetGalley too, but I wasn’t quite sure if I would be into it. Don’t get me wrong, the premise sounded really good, but I have been having terrible luck with good science fiction novels recently. I might put this on the list as a “maybe” for when I want a slow-paced easy to read book.

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  2. CWW your review… stunning, high quality ❤ asldfjadfkj i'm so excited for this book since i really loved dotc but i'm so scared i'm going to hate the first half… THIS HAPPENS SO OFTEN WITH SO MANY BOOKS where the ending is just. really good and i have to reevaluate my life decisions and my rating. love the grotesque/horror/fabulism type vibe in sff though!! hope this will be way better than wilder girls (i need a new book to love with a diff author LMAO)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, this sounds interesting. I’m curious to see whether the slow part would bother me or not. I often enjoy leisurely plots, but every now and then I chafe at a dragging pace. I guess I’ll just have to give it a try and see!

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