Before you read Joan He’s The Ones We’re Meant to Find, spend a moment to appreciate its cover. Featuring an illustration by Turkish artist Aykut Aydoğdu, it depicts the faces of two young women who seem peacefully swathed in a blanket of gentle ocean spray as cotton candy clouds float above them. It’s the perfect way to begin He’s book, a story in which nothing is what it seems to be.
Cee has been alone on a remote island for three years, unsure of her memories and her purpose. With the help of an old robot, she collects scraps so she can build a boat and sail off to search for the only thing she is sure of: Cee has a sister, and she needs to find her. Science prodigy Kasey lives in a pollution-free eco-city, where she’s grappling not just with her sister’s mysterious death but also with the politics of saving her quickly deteriorating planet. A clue leads her to Actinium, an enigmatic young man whose skills as a scientist match her own but whose intentions are murky.
He has cited Hayao Miyazaki’s Academy Award-winning animated film, Spirited Away, as an inspiration for her writing, and it shows. Full of fantasy and mystery, this eco-science fiction romance is as epic as the ocean and seems destined for the big screen. He skillfully blends genres to create a cinematic Rorschach that puts both her characters and the reader to the test.
At the heart of the novel is this question: If we are the cause of humanity’s problems, how can we possibly be the solution? “None of us live without consequence,” says Kasey at an emotional high point. “Our personal preferences are not truly personal. One person’s needs will deny another’s. Our privileges can harm ourselves and others.” It’s heady stuff—ambitious, pointed and deeply satisfying. The plot’s twists, turns and reveals aren’t just boxes He is checking for the sake of a formulaic mystery. Instead, they’re purposeful and in service of characters who are on the brink of something greater than themselves.
Though it’s urgent and weighty, He’s sophomore novel isn’t lacking for fun. There are cute boys, high-tech marvels of the future and interpersonal drama along the way. When you reach the end, you’ll look at its gorgeous cover with new understanding. Like Kasey and Cee, there’s so much more than meets the eye.