“Meaning isn’t something you’re handed. It’s what you make out of tragedy.”
Dani is used to having everything she wants. Including easy access to alcohol and drugs whenever she wants. Sure, the pressure to be good enough for her parents and earn her place in the richest and most famous Black family in Text is a lot. But Dani has it under control. At least she thinks she does until her latest party ends with her close to blackout drunk in front of her aunt’s house.
Camila has been auditioning and failing to impress the same prestigious conservatory for years. Her Colombian American family has been saving for tuition. But even they don’t know that she’s still trying. Somehow, getting exactly what she wants still doesn’t work out. And it still isn’t enough to keep Camila from hurting herself when things don’t work out.
Dani and Camila have nothing in common until they become roommates at Peach Tree Hills, a treatment facility in Georgia.
Unwilling to trust each other with their secrets, the girls slowly learn to trust when they are united in trying to solve a years-old mystery. Someone at Peach Tree Hills left behind a music box filled with old letters. As Dani and Camila work together to find clues to the former residents past, they might also find the pieces they need to heal–and maybe even hope for their futures in We Weren’t Looking to Be Found (2022) by Stephanie Kuehn.
Kuehn’s latest novel alternates between Dani and Camila’s first person narrations. We Weren’t Looking to Be Found deals with addiction, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.
Camila is a dancer which adds drama to the story–particularly with her downward spiral stemming from her parents assuming she has given up on her conservatory dreams and spending the money they had saved on her tuition on a home remodel instead (one of the strangest choices in the entire narrative)–but is not further interrogated in terms of health issues or cultural pressures.
We Weren’t Looking to Be Found is a thoughtful exploration of mental health and treatment centering two teens of color. While the framing story of solving the mystery of the letters works as a device to bring Dani and Camila together, it also often feels contrived–an extra element that wraps up a bit too neatly compared to other elements in this story. Both girls realize that improving their mental health–and staying healthy–will take work and require big changes. This is particularly true for Dani as she has to take a hard look at her own role in her self-destructive choices. Camila’s path is not as smooth and not as resolved by the end of this story although Kuehn does end on a hopeful note emphasizing the frienship that has developed between the teens.
While there are no easy answers in We Weren’t Looking to Be Found, this story does a lot to destigmatize the need for mental health with its honest portrayal of two teens trying to get help and the frienship that helps them through.
Possible Pairings: Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert, Whisper to Me by Nick Lake, We Are All So Good at Smiling by Amber McBride, The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork