How to Find What You’re Not Look­ing For

Veera Hiranan­dani 

By – January 17, 2022

In Con­necti­cut in 1967, sixth-grad­er Ariel Ari” Goldberg’s world is chang­ing. Her old­er sis­ter Leah begins see­ing a young man named Raj, who is from India. Unlike the Gold­bergs, Raj is Hin­du, not Jew­ish. Although Lov­ing v. Vir­ginia, the Supreme Court deci­sion over­turn­ing laws against inter­ra­cial mar­riage, has recent­ly passed, the Gold­bergs dis­ap­prove of their eldest daugh­ter’s rela­tion­ship. When they cut off con­tact, Leah elopes. The estrange­ment leaves Ari dev­as­tat­ed. She does­n’t under­stand how her par­ents could be so prej­u­diced, and she grap­ples with the loss of her sis­ter, whom she des­per­ate­ly miss­es and strug­gles to locate.

Ari also expe­ri­ences oth­er sig­nif­i­cant per­son­al chal­lenges. She dis­cov­ers that her family’s bak­ery is in finan­cial trou­ble, and she faces dif­fi­cul­ties at school. Although she has a kind teacher who encour­ages her to find a voice through writ­ing poet­ry, Ari’s learn­ing dis­abil­i­ty, dys­graphia, makes writ­ing by hand dif­fi­cult, and it doesn’t help that her moth­er dis­miss­es her strug­gle as lazi­ness. Ari also endures anti­se­mit­ic bul­ly­ing, which large­ly goes unrec­og­nized. With pur­pose and resolve, Ari is deter­mined to reunite her fam­i­ly. Along the way, she dis­cov­ers con­fi­dence in her abil­i­ties and gar­ners strength to weath­er chal­lenges and fight for what she believes in.

Ari is a thought­ful, real­is­tic nar­ra­tor. The book’s struc­ture uti­lizes a sec­ond-per­son point of view, which offers a reframed aware­ness into Ari’s inner dia­logue. The book also includes Ari’s poems, offer­ing extra bits of insight.

The plot skill­ful­ly incor­po­rates sig­nif­i­cant hap­pen­ings, fig­ures, and cul­tur­al events of the 1960s, such as Dr. Mar­tin Luther King Jr., the Viet­nam War, and Lov­ing v. Vir­ginia (which Ari gives a school pre­sen­ta­tion on) in acces­si­ble ways which will prompt rel­e­vant and essen­tial conversations.

Thought-pro­vok­ing and filled with dis­cus­sion points, How to Find What You’re Not Look­ing For is an enlight­en­ing, pow­er­ful piece of his­tor­i­cal fiction.

Jil­lian Bietz stud­ied library tech­nol­o­gy and research skills and cur­rent­ly works in the library sys­tem. She is a book review­er for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and Kirkus Review Indie. Jil­lian lives in South­ern California.

Discussion Questions

It’s 1967, and twelve-year-old Ariel Gold­berg feels like her life is on shaky ground. She is grap­pling with fam­i­ly secrets, an undi­ag­nosed learn­ing dis­abil­i­ty, and a class­room bul­ly who sin­gles her out because she is Jew­ish. Plus, the year itself sig­nals social changes that ques­tion her family’s val­ues and com­pel Ari to stand up to them.

Using the sec­ond per­son, author Veera Hiranan­dani has craft­ed an exquis­ite, many-lay­ered sto­ry with com­pelling, ful­ly-real­ized char­ac­ters who grap­ple and grow with­in the con­fines and oppor­tu­ni­ties of their time and place. Ari feels invis­i­ble in her fam­i­ly and in her school. She ques­tions how Jew­ish she is sup­posed to be. At the core of the sto­ry is the Supreme Court’s deci­sion Lov­ing v. Vir­ginia that says ban­ning inter­ra­cial mar­riage is uncon­sti­tu­tion­al through­out the land. It fig­ures into Ari’s per­son­al turn­ing point, her school pre­sen­ta­tion, and her sister’s secret mar­riage, which throws the fam­i­ly into emo­tion­al chaos that Ari coura­geous­ly helps resolve.

With the aid of her teacher, Miss Field, Ari finds her foot­ing as a writer. She is a gift­ed poet whose free form poems add depth to this remark­able mid­dle-grade his­tor­i­cal fic­tion nov­el that speaks to the pow­er of love, com­pas­sion, tol­er­ance, Won­der Woman, and the Bea­t­les. Hiranan­dani has penned a remark­able addi­tion to children’s literature.