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.