How to Find What You're Not Looking For is a middle grade novel following a year in the life of Ariel Goldberg, a 12 year-old Jewish girl living in Connecticut in 1967. The Loving vs. Virginia court case has just been won, overturning the laws that banned interracial marriage.
Ariel must cope with her beloved older sister eloping with an Indian American man and her parents' disowning of her sister, because of her interracial and interfaith marriage. Ari struggles in school and is diagnosed, by a progressive and supportive teacher, with a learning disability called dysgraphia. Ari must also confront an antisemitic bully at school. Her parents run into financial trouble with the bakery they own and are under tremendous stress. The story is set against the historical events of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
The novel is written in the second person point of view and I found the perspective draws the reader into the story. Ariel has a strong and distinctive voice and we experience her attempts to make sense of her world and fight for her family right alongside her. The characters are well written and feel very real and genuine. I enjoyed Ariel's developing friendship with her neighbor and classmate Jane, the daughter of a single mother.
I appreciate that dysgraphia was discussed, as few educators seem to know about it, even today. Ariel learns to write poetry as an alternative way to express her thoughts and her poems are a very enjoyable part of the novel.
How to Find What You're Not Looking For is a compelling historical middle grade novel that skillfully confronts a diversity of tough subjects. It was well written, impossible to put down and great for readers of any age.