Book Review: Want by Cindy Pon – A Cornerstone of YA Sci-Fi: Great Discourse, Thrilling Action, and Characters You Will Love

Xiaolong the pink axolotl, wearing a big glass helmet over her head as a cosplay of Jason Zhou from WANT by Cindy Pon.Xiaolong looks extremely excited today, though the big helmet she has over her head may have something to do with it.

“Hi friend!” she exclaims when she sees you, her voice slightly muffled. “Varian made this for me, especially since I read this book recently and loved it so much that I couldn’t stop talking about it.”

She pulls off the helmet, and shakes her head a little. “It was a little cramped inside there. My gills weren’t out and free. But that’s why I want you to read this book, friend! It’s important that we look after our environment, the thing that gives our magic life and power.”

She plops down, and holds a book out to you. “So, this book is called Want…

Text: Want by Cindy Pon. Image: An illustration of Jason Zhou, an Asian male, wearing a translucent helmet, with multi-coloured square lights reflecting on the helmet.

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

CW’s review:

Note: the following review is an edit and report of a review I wrote in my old book blog, Read Think Ponder.

It’s been two years since I read this book, and it’s still a book I think about often. Want has everything that you want in a science-fiction: powerful socio-political discourse about environmentalism and inequality, incredible characters, and is critical yet accessible. Set in the distant future, Want follows Jason Zhou and his friends who work together to bring down a corrupt organisation that perpetuates the inequality and poverty within Taipei. There are very few books that ever satisfy my sociologically-inclined and discoursing heart, but Want was such a book – and more.

Powerful and unforgettable discourse that tackles environmentalism

Set in the distant future, Taipei is perpetually covered in a thick layer of toxic smog. The rich people, or you (有) which means to have, are able to afford and wear technologically-advanced suits that provide them with clean oxygen thus protecting them against the pollution. Not only can they afford such suits, the you’s wealth affords them cosmetic surgery, simulated entertainment, and the luxuries and grandeur of high society. In contrast, the poor people, or mei (没) which means have not, are not able to afford such suits, and thus succumb to disease, homelessness, hunger, and early death. Within the very first chapter, Pon sets the scene of such a Taipei where the wealth disparity is visible and palpable.

Two years later and Want is still the most gripping and critical story that I’ve read that tackles environmentalism, inequality, and corruption. The discourse in this book was amazing, and I was hooked and intellectually stimulated. The book tackles a variety of important topics, all absolutely necessary to discuss and reflect on. A big issue explored in Want is environmentalism. However, rather than present the ideas through self-gratuitous monologues, we see the consequences of pollution and industrialization manifest in the story’s narrative, a series of questions asking what if’s about our own world and environment.

Thus, a distinct strength (and personal favourite) of Want is that its discourse and ideas are extremely accessible, or easy to understand and engage with, thus making it a perfect read for seasoned science-fiction readers as well as those who do not read science-fiction often. Essentially, Want does something more profound than answer the world’s socio-political questions: it asks thought-provoking questions that are difficult to answer and, most importantly, give you a glimmer of hope in unexpected ways.

Vivid and brilliantly-told with a compelling story

The writing was fantastic; it transported me to a bustling and overcrowded city lit by the stark light of giant billboards, filled with the scents of good food and smoke. The imagery of Taipei was reminiscent of my motherland, where giant apartment complexes were built next to squat slums. And then I thought: The juxtaposition of wealth, even in such proximity, does not only exist in Want, which provoked the question: how different is this futuristic Taipei from our society today or what it may be tomorrow? How much longer until our future becomes Want‘s Taipei?

Want may indeed be very topical, but it also possesses a compelling story that carries itself with exceptional momentum. Throughout the story, I was engaged, craving to know what happened next, how they were going to navigate each new challenge, how they were going to get through everything together, and how they would emerge from what they endure and how they would change. Complete with dangerous missions, including infiltration, reconnaissance, going undercover, and befriending the enemy, Want will certainly satisfy readers who love something a little more heart-stopping and thrilling.

Found family, with meaningful relationships

The story would not be the story it is without its phenomenal and memorable cast of characters. At the forefront is Zhou, the lead and narrator of Want. Best of all, set against the larger narrative, Zhou’s character development was gripping. Though determined in his mission, Zhou still experiences doubt and a unsettling awareness of the implications of his actions. His internal conflict provoked me to contemplate and weigh out what was more important: the so-called ‘greater good’ or the common good, when both entail destructive consequences?

Although Zhou was a great lead and narrator, I was inevitably drawn to his friends. I found myself loving every single one of them, each character a vital game-piece necessary to complete their ambitious mission. And when the friends are not working together to take down corporations, they are eating together and laughing. Zhou and his friends reminded me of summer days when I hung out with my friends, eating and laughing together. In other words, seeing such friendships, one so real and relatable, gave me such a warm and genuine feeling of nostalgia. The romance was splendid too – there was fantastic chemistry, which was balanced by a dynamic pulled taut by circumstance and differences. You would think that, amidst bringing down hegemony and corruption, there would be no time for a romance, but it was a welcome and meaningful addition to the story. 


So when I say, ‘everyone needs to read this’, it’s not only because Want is absolutely spectacular, but it also has thoughtful critique of modern society. Indeed, Want is a momentous cornerstone of young adult science-fiction. Hard to fault, everything about Want is incredible: characters, story, action, discourse — everything. If you haven’t read Want, I implore you to read it; it has my highest praises, highest esteem, and highest recommendation. A favourite in 2017, and still an effortless favourite now.

Goodreads | Book Depository | My original review on Goodreads

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A group of friends work together to take down a corrupt corporation.

Perfect for: Readers who love science-fiction with accessible discourse; want an exciting and fast-paced heist-like story; want to read a book that tackles important social issues, especially environmentalism.

Think twice if: heist stories are not your thing (though I’d argue to give this a go anyway!)

Genre: young adult, science-fiction.

Trigger/content warning: mild violence, death of a loved one.

Let’s discuss!

I decided to publish this review which I edited from my old blog because I plan to publish my review of the sequel of Want, Ruse, next! However, it didn’t feel right for me to review Ruse without reviewing Want on this blog (and also because I’ll take any opportunity to recommend Want, which remains to be one of my favourite books ever).

  • Have you read Want? What did you think of it?
  • What is your favourite young adult science-fiction novel? Why is it your favourite? Did it change your perspective about something?

22 thoughts on “Book Review: Want by Cindy Pon – A Cornerstone of YA Sci-Fi: Great Discourse, Thrilling Action, and Characters You Will Love

  1. This is such a wonderful review!!! As someone who never reads science fiction, I want to give this book a try and I hope, I will 😊😊
    Thank you for such amazing words..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so high on my TBR now!! I had first heard of it when it just came out and most people enjoyed it enough, but I wasn’t very interested. But then I’ve since grown to realize how much I love for heist stories and friend groups in books. And this review definitely upped this book on my TBR !!


    • Hi Caitlin!!
      Haha that’s totally fair and I get it! I hope you get the chance to pick it up though. The heist is pretty good and the friendships in this story feel so natural and lovely. And the commentary is awesome too!

      YAY! I hope you read it. Let me know if you do?? I’ll be all 👀👀👀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a good review, CW. I immediately add it to my super-soon-TBR! My latest fav sci-fi novel is Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen and it was my first 5/5 book for this year. I really recommend it if you’re into time-travel plot + intense family bond. Have you read it??

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really, really can’t wait to read Want, I added the book on my TBR because of you ages ago and… I still haven’t had an occasion to buy a copy, but I can’t wait to do so. It sounds absolutely incredible and ahh, your fantastic review makes me so impatient to read it ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I actually have this in a book pile next toy bed right now. This review makes me a little more excited to read it and might have pushed it up a little higher in the stack. Right now I’m needing a little break from SFF but I’m back to being at least excited to get to this book now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Shon!

      Oooh!!! Oh gosh, I hope you do get around to reading it and that you enjoy it! I love this book with every fibre of my being.

      That’s totally fair! I take breaks from contemporary quite a bit, so I understand. 😘

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember this review! I originally picked want up because cindy pon is a LOCAL AUTHOR for me!!! but your review definitely pushed me to read it sooner rather than later. I totally agree it is amazing and deserves more hype a total favorite for me in 2017 and still is. I am super excited to dive into ruse!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, this is an incredible review and only makes me want to read this book more. I’ve had it on my want-to-read list for ages, but haven’t actually gone out and bought it yet (unfortunately no libraries for me)! It sounds like such an important and thought provoking read, while still presenting an enjoyable cast of characters in a sci-fi world. I love a good found families story and this one sounds pretty great! 🙂


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