A young woman trying to find her place in the world, Joy is alone. 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.
In Laura van den Berg’s gorgeously contemplative debut novel, Find Me, America is in the thick of a near-apocalypse brought about by widespread memory loss and eventual death ... Find Me is a distinctly American book, spotted with pilgrims and protesters dressed in black, concerned with questions of national identity. The plague is confined within the states, and Joy’s journey has glimmers of a cautionary travelogue ... It’s impossible to read this book and not consider other epidemics of forgetting, the kind that happen every day ... Van den Berg’s prose is honest and searching, an inquisitive tonic for a destroyed world. Questions plant themselves between paragraphs, unanswered, and curiosity steams through her book like a freight train of hope ... Her story sticks somewhere inside, impossible to forget.
Find Me is split in two, with the first half chronicling Joy’s experience at the Hospital and recollections of her traumatic past. This section is suspenseful and taut. In the second half, Joy embarks on her quixotic road trip from Kansas to Florida to meet the woman she believes is her mother. These later chapters are more meandering and episodic ... Despite the shortcomings in its latter half, Find Me is impressively original and tricky to categorize. Before dismissing it as yet another dystopian novel, know that the lure of a deadly epidemic proves somewhat misleading. The viral outbreak is relegated to the background, its ominous implications never fully explored ... Nor is Find Me a familiar narrative of a child in search of a long-lost parent. Whether the object of Joy’s fixation is her real mother, a ghost, a dream or just 'an idea of a person' makes no difference in the end.
Despite this post-apocalyptic setup, van den Berg is less focused on the epidemic than she is interested in creating a world in which memory can be mined. As in other dystopian novels like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Joy’s narration is elegiac, acutely aware of her proximity to death, both now and in the past ... Without the structure imposed by the hospital and its daily routine, the narrative wanders, and some of the coincidences that occur are implausible. The novel, however, powerfully conveys the fact that there are some things in life you don’t want to forget.