Group Discussion: We Weren’t Looking to be Found

With so much focus on teen’s mental health these days, more and more YA books are addressing the issue and telling these vital stories. Stephanie Kuehn’s newest, We Weren’t Looking to Be Found, adds to the teen voices out there. While initially marketed as a mystery, we found the story more to be a moving tale of friendship and healing. Read on to see our thoughts of this compelling novel.

Two young women's faces are on the cover but most of their heads are covered in blue. It's like they are peeking through a window that has been painted with a few spots that were missed.Dani comes from the richest, most famous Black family in Texas and seems to have everything a girl could want. So why does she keep using drugs and engaging in other self-destructive behavior?

Camila’s Colombian-American family doesn’t have much, but she knows exactly what she wants out of life and works her ass off to get it. So why does she keep failing, and why does she self-harm every time she does?

When Dani and Camila find themselves rooming together at Peach Tree Hills, a treatment facility in beautiful rural Georgia, they initially think they’ll never get along―and they’ll never get better. But then they find a mysterious music box filled with letters from a former resident of PTH, and together they set out to solve the mystery of who this girl was . . . and who she’s become. The investigation will bring them together, and what they find at the end might just bring them hope.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

First question – what did you think of the novel?

K. Imani: Honestly, I was a bit disappointed in the novel. Based on the synopsis, I thought the mystery of the music box would drive the story, but instead it seemed more of a footnote and was solved waaaaay too easily. The true story was of Dani and Camila’s budding friendship and the healing they receive at Peach Tree Hills. The novel then is more a contemporary story rather than a mystery so that soured my pleasure of the book a bit. 

Jessica: Agreed, the book synopsis set expectations for a more mystery/thriller-focused story, which wasn’t what it really ended up being about. I know mystery and thrillers are quite trendy right now, so I wonder if this was aimed at bringing in those particular readers. I did really appreciate the content warning at the beginning. IMO, more books should have them! 

Crystal: I guess in this case, it is good I read the synopsis quite a while ago, but then didn’t re-read it before beginning. I actually thought about it, but since I was reading digitally and would need to find it somewhere, I decided to just skip it and get started. Though reading digitally is also why I missed the content warning. I just checked, it is there, but because it’s on the page with copyright information, I just glanced past it and would have appreciated knowing what was to come. Overall, I found the book to be one that inspired me to think about my own past and issues, but didn’t cause me heavy stress so that was good.

Audrey: I was also expecting more of a mystery/thriller because of the setup by the prologue. Once I recalibrated my expectations, I really enjoyed the book. WE WEREN’T LOOKING TO BE FOUND deals with substance abuse, suicide, and self-harm in a sensitive, realistic way. I appreciated that both Dani and Camila had paths toward recovery, and that their paths weren’t linear. Some things in their lives can’t be fixed so easily. The ending was still a bit more abrupt than I’d hoped, but I liked the book overall. 

Which girl’s story did you connect to more, Dani or Camila?

Audrey: There were some moments from Camila that really resonated with me, and I was really struck by some of Dami’s scenes with her therapist. Dani could identify some of the issues between her and her parents, but she didn’t have the perspective or experience to be able to figure out everything on her own or how to address her own problems. Both Camila and Dani were compelling narrators.

K. Imani: I connected more to Camila as I could understand how she put so much pressure on herself, especially her desire to dance, and how when that was taken away from her she didn’t know how to handle her emotions. I really felt her heartbreak and how it just destroyed her. And how she progressed back to finding herself, but the end made me sad for her, but it was realistic. And I feel like now she has more hope, and a lifeline in Dani, so I loved that growth for her. 

Jessica: I think I connected more to Camila. The pressures she was under is unfortunately something that I think many young people can relate to. On the other hand, Dani was also a really compelling character. 

Crystal: I connected to both in different ways. I could definitely relate to Camila and her lack of awareness around her anger. Being able to recognize anger and seeing that it can be a good thing was something that I didn’t learn until much later in life. There were aspects of Dani’s experience that resonated with me too though. The distance between Dani and her parents reminded me of my own family. Between the two, there were many experiences and emotions that young people might recognize.

I feel like this book does a wonderful “Enemies to Friends” trope as the two girls do not get along at the beginning and eventually do after being forced together. Do you think it fit the trope as well?

Jessica: I’d say it does to a certain extent! While I don’t think the synopsis and the story quite matched up, I did appreciate what the story ended up being. I’m always a fan of disparate characters coming together and finding ways to heal, so Dani and Camila’s story kept me reading. That aspect is particularly relevant, given how impactful certain friendships can be, especially considering how often you’re sort of thrown together with people as a teen. Friendship can bloom in all sorts of circumstances!

Crystal: Like Jessica, I appreciated this friendship. The trope fit and I liked that they were able to learn from and with each other over time. I like seeing how they warmed up to each other and were able to move forward.

Audrey: My favorite parts of an “enemies to friends” plot are when the characters have little moments of recognition, whether that’s a realization that they’re similar in some way or admiration for something the other person has done/accomplished. Dani and Camila had some great scenes for this, and I was very pleased with how their friendship came together. 

K. Imani: I agree, Audrey. There were so many great scenes between the two girls that really stood out to me and made me recognize the trope. I loved that Dani and Camila grew to understand each other and even come to rely on each other. I feel like their friendship allowed them to heal individually as both became sensitive to the other’s needs and provided support. Both became more empathetic as a result, while also realizing what they needed individually to heal. 

Generational trauma is hinted at in this book among both Dani’s and Camila’s families. How did that resonate with you?

K. Imani: There is so much talk about generational trauma these days, but many don’t even realize how deep it actually affects them. Dani’s strained relationship with her mother is a prime example of how trauma can really damage a teen’s life, but Dani doesn’t realize it. It made me sad for Dani because of her hurt, she couldn’t see how her mother hurt and the sacrifices that her mother had to make to maintain her position in society. I felt like if Peach Tree Hills had encouraged Dani’s parents to be a part of her healing, Dani would have recognized how her behavior and actions comes from her family’s way of dealing with racism. I felt the same for Camila’s parents, especially her dad, after immigrating from Colombia and working so hard. 

Jessica: Oof. I’m so glad the book touched on this, and I would have been interested to see it explored even more. Generational trauma leaves such a heavy footprint on our lives, particularly given the legacies of racism and colonialism. There are so many things that I get frustrated at about my parents, or end up being mystified by, and sometimes I have to remind myself of what they, and their parents, and their parents’ parents have been through to end up here, and how that informs how they behave and interact with the next generation. 

Crystal: Generational trauma can do so much damage in a family and yet it does not often get untangled and explained until children have already been feeling the effects for many years. Most often it seems that young people don’t find out about these root causes until they are adults. So much of what they see as they grow up would have made more sense had they known earlier. Knowing and understanding can really help with parent/child communication, but discussing generational trauma is not an easy thing and sometimes the adults involved don’t even understand how much it is impacting themselves, much less their children or grandchildren.

Audrey: And it can be hard to deal with if only one or some of the family gets help for their mental health. By the end of the book, Dani is in a much better place as an individual, but she has also acknowledged that she doesn’t think her parents can be there for her the way she needs them to be. It’s likely that distance will stay until or unless her own parents can do their own work, and that can be a difficult thing to come to terms with at any age. 

Obviously the main theme of this book is mental health, what about Peach Tree Hills methods did you approve or disapprove of (based on what we read). 

Jessica: I feel like I can’t really speak to a lot of that, not having a lot of knowledge regarding it, especially as it pertains to teens. But I will say that I appreciate how YA books on mental health can serve to de-stigmatize the subject, which is so important. 

Crystal: I liked that even though some of the freedom they allowed there was a little bit of an illusion, they did have some semblance of autonomy. I also appreciated that while the characters weren’t anti-medication, they also did not seem to push medication as the only or best solution for mental health. There was some balance there. 

Like Jessica, regardless of the specific methods, I am thankful that there are more and more pieces of media that are encouraging people to think about and discuss mental health. 

Audrey: I don’t think I got enough sense about what Peach Tree Hills was like as a whole, but I did appreciate that there seemed to be an emphasis on individual treatment plans. What works for one person may not work for another, and there were a few moments where you could see that the staff was trying to tailor Camila and Dami’s treatment to them. I kind of wish we could have gotten to know more about the other girls at Peach Tree Hills so we could see how things were like for them.

Has there been a book about teens and mental health that you have really loved?

Jessica: When We Were Infinite by Kelly Loy Gilbert touches on trauma and mental health a bit, and I’ll always shout out When We Were Infinite and Picture Us in the Light since these two books take place in a setting very similar to my own childhood upbringing and I relate to it so much! These books are must-reads. 

Crystal: I second the titles already mentioned. I would also add Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi and The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan. Adib Khorram’s Darius books are also pretty wonderful. In addition, I would include the nonfiction title (Don’t) Call Me Crazy edited by Kelly Jensen which is an excellent collection of writings about mental health.  

K. Imani: I absolutely loved I.W. Gregorio “This is My Brain in Love” that explored anxiety and depression and how to navigate teen life with pressures from parents, friends, society, etc. Of course the romance was sweet too but I feel like both characters openness and willing learn about what makes the other tick was what made the romance real and sweet. 

Audrey: I very much enjoyed QUEEN OF THE TILES by Hanna Alkaf, which deals heavily with grief after an unexpected and sudden death. Grieving someone can be a messy and difficult process, and people don’t all handle it the same way. In QUEEN OF THE TILES, the main character has to contend with panic attacks/PTSD and anxiety resulting from seeing her friend die, and it was refreshing to see how all of those things were handled.

That’s all from our discussion. Did you read “We Weren’t Looking to be Found”? What did you think? Share with us in the comments.