cover image Find Me

Find Me

Laura van den Berg. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-15471-4

The debut novel from van den Berg brings the lightly speculative touch to real-world longing that characterizes her collections What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us and The Isle of Youth, but against an apocalyptic backdrop that, at first, feels all too familiar. As a mysterious illness spreads across the world, a 19-year-old orphan girl called Joy Jones is living as ward of the sinister Hospital, along with other immune children, subject to the strange experiments of Dr. Bek, whose interest in Joy extends beyond medical inquiry. Indeed, amid an “epidemic of forgetting,” Joy fights for her memories of life, and hopes to be somehow reunited with her mother, whom she believes to be a nautical detective, a finder of lost ships, operating off the coast of Florida. Hoping to escape the fate of the Hospital’s other residents and nurtured by rumors of the outside world, Joy journeys from Kansas City to Florida, chasing visions alongside her only companion, a boy in a rubber mask named Marcus. This post-Hospital half of the novel plays to van den Berg’s strengths, with wild excursions into dangerous new environments populated by memorable oddballs, never losing sight of the emotional core of Joy’s quest. The earlier chapters are hampered by future-isms that are cliché and conclusions that feel tedious or foregone—but in Joy, van den Berg has created a voice that never feels false, only lost and dreaming of being found. (Feb.)