Title: The Ones We’re Meant to Find
Author: Joan He
Publisher: Text Publishing
The problem with oceans? They always seem smaller from the shore.Joan He, The Ones We’re Meant to Find
The Ones We’re Meant to Find follows the dual-perspectives of two sisters — Cee and Kasey — who live in the aftermath of worldwide climate catastrophe. Cee has been stuck on an island for three years, desperate to leave and find her lost sister. In the eco-city designed to protect humans from further environmental chaos, Kasey searches for answers when her sister vanishes into the ocean without a trace. It is a story of love, an exploration of the ecological consequences of capitalism, and an experiment in what it means to be human.
I don’t think I could have chosen a better book to lift me from my recent reading slump. I devoured Cee and Kasey’s story, becoming hooked by the dynamic between the sisters at the heart of the novel. Joan He writes their relationship so elegantly, without making the polar differences in personality feel too trope-y. While Cee takes every opportunity to experience life in as much detail as she can, Kasey is anything but in touch with her emotions, opting to use the Intraface technology wired to her brain to avoid negative feelings at all. The two have very different approaches to how they live their respective lives, yet it’s clear that they both still care very deeply about one another. Despite the many twists of each storyline, the relationships between sisters remains the driving force of the book.
I found myself relating very closely to both protagonists of this book. Cee’s determination to experience everything her life and the beauty of the planet has to offer resonated with my attraction to the natural world and, as a writer, my constant desire to accumulate life experiences. She has a desire to live that seems uncommon in our modern world of social media clout and everything more accessible from the comfort of our homes than ever before. To have a character like Cee dropped in a future where “non-essential” tasks (really anything besides eating and exercise) are encouraged to be performed in a stasis pod as a holographic projection of oneself, is a powerful exploration of what it means to live a fulfilling life, especially as a young adult.
Kasey, on the other hand, does not enjoy the chore of human reality. She spends the majority of her time in her stasis pod, avoiding human contact as much as possible. Unlike Cee’s want for adventure, Kasey feels comfortable only in the company of cold, hard facts. Science rules her life, and if something doesn’t have a logical reasoning or clear evidence (ideally with graphs) then she retreats from it, afraid of its unpredictability. While, like Cee, I want to experience the world for all its natural beauty, I also live with a social anxiety and an introversion that is very clear in Kasey’s character. She loses touch with even her only friend Meridian once she begins her search for answers surrounding her sister’s disappearance, and in her opening chapter avoids interacting with any other revellers at a holo house party. I wonder if the author intentionally wrote Kasey as a young woman on the spectrum of autism but she certainly reads that way to me. She is most comfortable with herself, away from the pressure of social cues she does not understand, but she also makes numerous attempts to step outside her comfort zone for the people she loves, even if she doesn’t understand the appeal.
*This next paragraph is full of spoilers, so you should skip ahead if you haven’t read the book yet!*
I found the most fascinating element of The Ones We’re Meant to Find to be the exploration of what it means to be human, and what it means to live, rather than merely survive. After majority of the book delving into Kasey’s memories of her sister choosing to experience her life to its fullest capacity rather than spend it in a pod, it is revealed that Cee is, completely unbeknown to her, a bot designed by Kasey in the likeness of her in-fact-very-much-dead sister — Celia. To have such a drastic shift in our understanding of Cee’s character is both heart-rending and cause for introspection. Does what we know now alter the fundamental way we relate to Cee? Is she now, after everything we experience with her, less human than Celia, her biological counterpart? Do her own feelings, including the blooming love for her only companion on the island, no longer count for anything? Is her decision to deny her programming and abandon Kasey in the depths of the ocean a matter of the heart, or merely a technical fault? Has Cee’s humanity been stripped of her, or was she denied it in the first place? Joan He answers none of these questions, but instead opens a dialogue in what we consider consciousness and humanity to tangibly be in a world driven by technology and capitalism. Overall The Ones We’re Meant to Find is a novel full of extraordinary ideas, about love, devotion, and humanity. And that’s not even delving into the significance of its setting of a seemingly inevitable future of climate catastrophe, reflecting our systemic corruption of the planet in our current age.