Find Me by Laura van den Berg caught my eye on several “anticipated for 2015” lists earlier in the year, so I thought I’d give it a shot. From Goodreads:
Joy has no one. She spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store outside Boston and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a sickness that begins with memory loss and ends with death sweeps the country, Joy, for the first time in her life, seems to have an advantage: she is immune. When Joy’s immunity gains her admittance to a hospital in rural Kansas, she sees a chance to escape her bleak existence. There she submits to peculiar treatments and follows seemingly arbitrary rules, forming cautious bonds with other patients—including her roommate, whom she turns to in the night for comfort, and twin boys who are digging a secret tunnel. As winter descends, the hospital’s fragile order breaks down and Joy breaks free, embarking on a journey from Kansas to Florida, where she believes she can find her birth mother, the woman who abandoned her as a child. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house. As Joy closes in on Florida, she must confront her own damaged memory and the secrets she has been keeping from herself.
I half liked it, half “huh?” with Find Me. The premise is intriguing and full of potential, if not exactly original (plague post-apocalyptic stories are everywhere these days). I was gripped by the whole first half of the book, while Joy was in the hospital and her flashbacks to life before/during the memory sickness outbreak.
Then the second half of the book came along. Hmm. It started off well—and I’m sure I’m biased here—with Joy leaving the hospital and taking a bus to Kansas City, my town! Kudos to van den Berg for obviously extensive research into the book’s real-life locales. She was spot on with the Kansas City descriptions:
In Kansas City, we pass an empty square and a bronze statue of a winged horse. (159)
I decide to get off on Seventh Street. … A block down, there’s a motel called the Walnut. (159–60)
I ask No Name what he knows about Kansas City and he tells me this place is nicknamed the City of Fountains because there are hundreds of fountains. The cowboy boot was invented here. Kansas City is home to one of the world’s largest roller coasters. (164)
This is all pretty much right on! Must be referring to the statues outside City Hall on 12th Street (Wikipedia image) for the winged horse; there’s the Walnut Tower Apartments building at Walnut and 7th Streets (not a motel, but you know, I understand the use of artistic license here). Yes, City of Fountains; yes, the roller coaster (located at Worlds of Fun). The cowboy boot invention was new to me, so I looked it up—apparently just outside of KC in Olathe is where this style was started, among other nearby places. Nice!
After that, the book started to aimlessly drift into a very dreamlike state for me… kind of like Joy on her cross-country bus trip. Things just seemed to happen, like, I don’t recall buildup of tension or action leading up to an event or change, it just was all of a sudden. Maybe I wasn’t reading as carefully as I should have, but my interest waned. The last third is especially trippy and surreal. The more I think about it, the more I can see that Joy is an unreliable narrator, which is a feature I enjoy in books, but perhaps Joy is just a little too young for me to be enthralled by her journey (she’s just 19—this hinges on YA, or maybe more accurately the “New Adult” genre).
It’s a little hard to talk about Find Me without giving away spoilers! Maybe it would have worked better as a short story or novella. But I think it’s a worthwhile read if you enjoy a great premise, beautiful writing, and a thought-provoking meditation on memory and its reliability.
Read from May 11 to 17, 2015.