Wednesday, September 22, 2021

How to Find What You're Not Looking For

Hirandani, Veera. How to Find What You're Not Looking For
September 14th 2021 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ariel lives with her parents and sister Leah in Connecticut in 1967, having moved there from Brooklyn when her parents wanted to distance themselves from relatives and relocate their bakery. The family is Jewish, but not as observant as some of the family, which has lead to tensions. Unfortunately, their new town does not have very many Jewish people, and Ariel has experienced some racial tensions, but her parents don't want "to make a fuss". When Leah shares with Ariel that she has met a man she really likes, Raj, she asks Ariel to keep it a secret, because Raj's family is from India, and they are Hindu. He's studying at New York University, and worries that his family won't be any more accepting than Leah's. There are other things going on in Ari's life as well. She has a lot of trouble with her handwriting, and struggles with school assignments, but her mother, even after countless meetings with teachers, just thinks that Ari needs to work harder and everything will be fine. Ari's teacher, Miss Field, is impressed with Ari's poetry, and also encourages to do a report on the recent case of Loving vs. Virginia. After her sister makes a sudden but unsurprising decision regarding Raj, Ari is even more interested in this historic civil rights case. When the bakery falls on hard times and the tension in her family increases, will Ari ever be able to make her parents understand how important it is that they continue to communicate with Leah?
Strengths: I love that this is based on the author's own background of having a Jewish American mother and father from Mumbai. We need more stories about families who have been in the US for quite a while; it might help people understand how unnecessary and hurtful the question "Where are you from?" can be. Working in the current event of Loving vs. Virginia gives this a wider historical perspective. The long time family bakery was interesting, and the hard work involved in such an enterprise, and the economic difficulty of running one, was poignant. Leah's struggles with her relationship with Raj, and the parents' objections, were completely realistic for the time, and a good example of how things have changed, if only incrementally. Ari's learning disability (dysgraphia) is one that I haven't seen portrayed in middle grade literature, and the depiction of how she deals with it, how her parents feel about it, and the efforts of the new, young teacher are all interesting. This story combines several different elements in a compelling way that I think will make it a popular choice with many readers. 
Weaknesses: This was written in the present tense, and for some reason, that seemed odd. Ah. It's because it is also written in the second person, which I didn't realize until just now. So, apparently not a big issue, but reading it felt a little bit like I had an uncomfortable tag poking the back of my neck. Perhaps that was the point? Also, the inclusion of student poetry in books always makes me cringe, since I wrote (and published) a lot of poetry until I was in my mid-twenties and should never have shown it to anyone! 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. I love the range of Hirandani's work, and look forward to what she writes next. A great addition to historical fiction about the immigrant experience, such as Dumas' It Ain't So Awful, Falafel, Yang's Front Desk, Perkins' You Bring the Distant Near, and Behar's Lucky Broken Girl. 

Ms. Yingling

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