We Weren’t Looking To Be Found – Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie Kuehn’s latest YA offering We Weren’t Looking To Be Found concerns the lives of Dani and Camila, two teenagers who end up as roommates at Peach Tree Hills, a live-in treatment facility for young women who suffer from addiction/mental health issues.

Dani comes from an affluent Dallas family. Her mother is a city councilor, about to make another re-election bid. Dani’s relationship with her mother is strained.

…leave it to Emmeline Rosemarie Washington to care more about our community than she cares about her only daughter’s happiness. But that’s par for the course around here, as is my insistence on ignoring her concerns. My mother only cares about the Black community so much as it can make her look good and boost her political clout…

Dani’s father is “clueless; he’s always griping about stuff like eating disorders and depression being these frivolous “white people problems””.

Dani deals with her messy life by not really dealing with it at all. Instead, she self-medicates with alcohol and the pills she steals from her parents’ medicine cabinet: Xanax, Adderall and Vicodin.

Camila comes from decidedly less affluent circumstances. She lives in Lamont, Georgia where “A foulness […] clings to our clothes, seeps into our skin, and haunts our dreams.” Her father is from Colombia and her mother is Mexican American and although she knows they love her, she doesn’t feel as though they understand her. What Camila wants more than anything is to attend Fieldbrook, a prestigious dance school in New Jersey. She’s auditioned twice before and failed to gain entry; she’s hoping this time will be different. And when it is different, and then her plans are kiboshed, Camila takes drastic measures.

When their lives go off the rails, Camila and Dani end up at Peach Tree Hills. Peach Tree Hills is “the best place for adolescent girls, especially girls of color. The staff is very diverse and sensitive to context and culture.” Neither girl wants to be there, but it is also clear that they have a lot to work through in order to become whole and healthy.

Kuehn is a clinical psychologist and it would probably be easy for this book to feel didactic, but it doesn’t. The professionals who work with the girls certainly sound authentic, but they don’t “instruct” the reader or the characters. More importantly, they aren’t able to wave a magic wand and fix these girls. Each of the main characters are a work in progress and the work is often messy and difficult. Often, it’s two steps forward and one step back.

I have read several other books by Kuehn (Charm & Strange, Complicit, Delicate Monsters, and When I Am Through With You) and each of those books had a sort of psychological suspense element. We Weren’t Looking To Be Found does have a teensy mystery, which I think is oversold in the book’s synopsis. The book really doesn’t need it anyway. Camila and Dani are engaging, and intelligent narrators (they take turns telling their story) and their journey to healing – while certainly not easy – is more than enough to keep readers engaged.

Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute – Talia Hibbert

I am not really a straight-up romance reader and if I do read them, I tend to like them angsty rather than sunny and sweet. Talia Hibbert’s first YA novel Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute definitely falls in the sweet category, but I am okay with that because this book is as charming as heck.

Seventeen-year-olds Celine Bangura and Bradley Graeme can barely stand the sight of each other. The two are classmates at Rosewood Academy, a school somewhere near Nottingham, England. Celine makes TikTok videos about UFOs and vaccines and has amassed a bit of a following. Brad is a football (aka soccer) player who hangs with the cool kids. Celine makes her disdain for Brad well known from the start.

People like them – “popular” people who think sports and looks and external approval are a valid replacement for actual personality – ironically don’t have the social skills to deal with anyone outside their golden circle. I should know.

Celine has “always believed he is fake and false and entirely made of earth-destroying plastic“.

Brad’s feelings regarding Celine are equally disdainful. She’s a “terrible, horrible person who I absolutely can’t stand.”

It wasn’t always been this way, though. Their mothers are besties and so were they until they were fourteen. Then something happened and now the two give each other the evil eye and if they do have to talk it’s only to trade pointed barbs.

An accident puts them on each other’s radar and then they both end up going for the same scholarship, which requires them to participate in a two-part survival course. Neither of them is particularly interested in the great outdoors, but both of them would benefit from the money for different reasons.

Celine is competitive and driven, especially by her need to shame her father who “ditched [her] for his second family ten years ago and [she hasn’t] seen him since.” Brad’s family could afford the tuition, but the scholarship means that he could afford single accommodations, which is something Brad desperately wants for reasons I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say, these teenagers – besides being really smart and funny – have baggage and secrets they are keeping from themselves, their families and even each other. They have built walls around themselves in order to protect themselves from the rough weather known as adolescence.

Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute is definitely tropey. There’s enemies-to-lovers, and close proximity, for sure. But in every other way, this is a refreshing, funny and sweet story of two teenagers trying to figure out what they want their lives to look like. I absolutely adored both of the main characters. Their banter was often laugh-out-loud funny and even though I knew what the outcome of this whole thing was going to be right from the very start I was delighted to go along for their swoony ride.

Highly recommended.