Wow, what a memorable read. How to Find What You’re Not Looking For by Veera Hiranandani is a middle grade novel that completely sucked me in. This emotional read takes place in the 1960’s and covers so many themes so well.

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The summary, from Amazon:

New historical fiction from a Newbery Honor–winning author about how middle schooler Ariel Goldberg’s life changes when her big sister elopes following the 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision, and she’s forced to grapple with both her family’s prejudice and the antisemitism she experiences, as she defines her own beliefs. 

Twelve-year-old Ariel Goldberg’s life feels like the moment after the final guest leaves the party. Her family’s Jewish bakery runs into financial trouble, and her older sister has eloped with a young man from India following the Supreme Court decision that strikes down laws banning interracial marriage. As change becomes Ariel’s only constant, she’s left to hone something that will be with her always–her own voice.

Buy How to Find What You’re Not Looking For here.

How to Find What You’re Not Looking For tackles so many things: racism, interracial marriage in a time when it was not largely socially accepted, anti-Semitism, learning disabilities, family tension, and financial struggles – and Hiranandani does it so well. Ari is thrown for a loop when her sister, Leah, elopes with Raj, an Indian man, because her parents aren’t supportive of their relationship. Ari questions whether her parents are upset about Leah and Raj because he isn’t Jewish or because he’s Indian. She misses her sister and wonders how she can get in touch with her. This is in the wake of the Loving v. Virginia case, and Ari decides to do a school project on it. Meanwhile, at school Ari has an anti-Semitic bully who is a bit of a problem, but is also navigating her learning disability, dysgraphia. Her teacher Miss Field is supportive, but Ari isn’t sure that her mother is.

I loved a lot of the discussion in this book. There’s a really great conversation about the difference between protests and riots and the media’s use of the word “riot”. I also liked this quote about handling things peacefully:

What if people don’t change? What are you supposed to do if they keep putting you down, shoving you aside when you’ve done nothing to them?

What really stands out about Ari’s story is that it is written in second person. The use of “you” really connects the reader (or at least this reader) to what Ari is experiencing. I also appreciate the authentic voice. Hiranandani was inspired to write this based on her parents’ experience in the 1960’s. Her mother, like Leah, came from a Jewish family, and her father, like Raj, was Indian.

I did find that a climactic scene wrapped up a little too quickly, and I’m still iffy on Ari’s thoughts regarding her bully, Chris. He’s a child so I agree that he’s not a bad person, but I struggle to be so forgiving to those who use hate speech – not that Chris is forgiven, and his behavior is shown as wrong. I loved that the family got a happy ending but there was still tension. It felt very realistic. This book had me tearing up throughout the entire read and it was a definite 5 star read, one of the more memorable middle grade novels I read in 2021.

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How to Find What You're Not Looking forHow to Find What You’re Not Looking for by Veera Hiranandani
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I simply adored this second person middle grade novel that put me right in Ari’s shoes. Tackles so much and does it so well!

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Book Club Questions

  1. How do the news stories that happened throughout How to Find What You’re Not Looking For relate to current events?
  2. Describe Ari’s relationship with her parents, sister, teacher, and best friend.
  3. Why does Chris bully Ari? Does his situation make his behavior more understandable?
  4. Why does Leah elope with Raj?
  5. Do you think this story could still take place this year? Why or why not? What about it might still be realistic and what wouldn’t be?

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