I’m currently reading through my queue of old books Megan lent me months ago (my most recent read was The Friend) and I just finished Laura Van Den Berg’s Find Me, which is the second of her books I’ve completed. Unlike with most novels I’ve read, it took me a while to get through Find Me even though the subject matter is extremely relevant to our current time. Similar to that of Ling Ma’s Severance (a book I read months ago and am in love with and will share soon!), Find Me is set in an American epidemic that starts with memory loss and eventually leads to death. The book’s protagonist, Joy Jones, is somehow immune to the sickness and while she initially is housed in a hospital with other “immune” patients, the second half of the novel is about her search for the mother who abandoned her and a place to call home.
I expected Find Me to discuss in detail the horrors of the epidemic—how it started, why memory loss was the main symptom, how it was transmitted, etc.—but the first half mainly revolves around the patients in the Kansas hospital where Joy resides. The hospital is split into floor groups and Dr. Bek and other nurses are constantly performing treatments and tests on the residents to see if they’ll eventually get sick and/or how much time they each have left. Joy’s roommate is a 30 year old man named Louis who she loves and has been intimate with, but they unspokenly agree to just be roommates for most of the section. Her other close companions are twin boys named Sam and Christopher who love Hawaiʻi and decide to dig a tunnel in their room so they can escape to the outside world. A large part of this first half sometimes felt painstakingly slow, which made it difficult to want to read. I appreciated Joy and Louis’ connection, but I wanted Dr. Bek’s character to be more like Dr. Brenner in Stranger Things, or at least have some other type of terrifying presence. I also wished the first half was more exciting, although I know the pace mimicked the daily lives of the hospital patients—monotonous, boring, and hopeless. The most devastating part was when *spoiler alert, obviously* Louis falls sick and Joy imagines a scenario where Dr. Bek allows her to sit with him until he dies. In that short chapter, Van Den Berg writes, “He has forgotten everything. So I will start at the beginning. So I will tell him all about us.” In reality though, Joy never gets to see Louis before he dies and she sits in a closet while it’s happening on a separate floor.
The second half of the book occurs when Joy escapes the hospital and somehow reunites with her long lost foster brother Marcus who can transport himself to different places through his memory. Marcus is briefly mentioned a few times in the hospital half as Joy talks about the only boy she’s ever loved or treated her like family. When the two connect again, Joy takes Marcus with her on her journey to find her birth mother. Along the way, they stay with an older couple named Darcie and Nelson who live in a mysterious rundown house with an underground tunnel that allows them to speak to people they’ve lost or have died. This portion was confusing to me, especially as Darcie shows Joy and Marcus how to take a special liquid drug and stand in the tunnel, naked, before having a seemingly out of body connection with the person of their choosing. The reader would think Joy would want to talk to or find her mother, but eventually, it’s revealed that she was experiencing memories of a former foster brother who sexually assaulted her when she was a child. Darcie and Nelson ultimately become too crazy for Joy and Marcus to live with, so the young pair leave them and continue on their quest toward Florida. Certain chapters are like checklists of Joy going through her memories so she knows she’s still immune to the sickness. In one of the chapters, she says, “A theory on why we stop remembering: there is a part of our story that we do not know how to tell to ourselves and we will away its existence for so long that finally our brain agrees to a trade: I will let you forget this, but you will never feel whole.” I loved this paragraph because it reminds me of how people with trauma tend to push back certain memories or experiences so as to not feel certain pain and Van Den Berg perfectly encapsulated that feeling. The book ends with Joy and Marcus still on their quest and she’s not reunited with her mother, but there’s a sense of hope for the first time that the two will meet again. I liked that there wasn’t a happy ending because the book itself, even with the reunion of Joy and Marcus and the love they shared, there were maybe one or two happy moments throughout. The small inkling of hope was all the joy (pun intended) the reader would need to feel satisfied with the ending. I had many mixed reactions to Find Me, but most of what I felt was positive, so I would give it a 7/10 and recommend the reading to anyone who likes melancholy stories and books about long journeys!