How do you find what you are not looking for?
By Vera Hiranandani
It’s 1967. Ariel Goldberg – the protagonist of Vera Hiranandani’s new middle-grade novel – struggles with schoolwork and being the only Jewish girl in sixth grade. Her 18-year-old sister Leah is secretly dating a Hindu boy whose family emigrated from India; When Ari and Leah’s parents refuse to accept the relationship, Leah runs away from Raj and disappears. Now Ari must deal alone with the knowledge that her parents’ bakery has failed; her feud with her best friend, Jane; bullying fellow Jews who hates; And her mother’s insistence that if she had worked harder, she would have done better at school.
There is one bright spot. Contrary to what, Ari’s new school, Miss Field, doesn’t think Ari is lazy. Miss Field discovers that Ari has something called dysgraphia and encourages her to write poetry on IBM Selectric – writing helps Ari’s hands keep up with her brain.
Ari doesn’t understand how her parents can be so prejudiced against Raj when they themselves face prejudice and admire Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. With, “Very impressive. I think if people are going to live here, they have to learn our language.” However, don’t she and dad speak Yiddish at home?
When Ari temporarily tells her troubles to Jane (who turns out to have her secrets and sorrows), the two plan a Nancy Drew-like journey to find Leah.
How To Find What You’re Not Looking For offers cute humor and the perfect amount of ’70s – Jane’s sketch of the girls’ secret mission is “really bloated”; He loves Raj Doors, while Leah thinks the Beatles are more awesome; Ari considers giving two nickels to a “degraded fellow” on the subway. The book is written in the second person, and each chapter has a title that begins with “How” – “How to keep a secret”, “How to write a poem”, “How to follow the rules”, “How to be a Minch”. it’s working. The reader, like Ari, sees that there is no universal method for almost anything.
What’s most noticeable about the book is how awesome it is. People learn, forgive and try to do better. In knee-jerk time (our time), it’s so powerful to witness Ari’s realization that people can grow and change, and that her parents’ prejudices are so rooted in their youthful traumas as well as historical Jewish trauma that she even bullies her, and is definitely a jerk, has a story. (He is scared and angry because his brother is fighting in Vietnam.) None of this makes bullying or prejudice acceptable. But it makes it easier to invite people in rather than out.
However, sometimes the expression of anger is justified. “Anger may be good or bad, depending on what you do with it,” Ari notes. Sure, the end of the book is a bit tidy; Real life tends to be more complex than the endings of middle-grade novels.
One would think that a middle-grade novel dealing with the historical court case of love against Virginia, anti-Semitism, learning disabilities, the Vietnam War, Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons and progressive education, would sound overcrowded. But Hiranandani – author of “The Night Diary” (a Newberry Honoree) and “The Complete Story of a Half-Girl” (one of Sidney Taylor’s notable writers) – and herself the daughter of a white Ashkenazi Jewish mother and a Hindu father, this serious subject is lightly deadly, overflowing with kindness and comedy. subtle without being naive or reductive. It’s an amazing achievement.