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.