Not the Girls You're Looking For

Book review by
Nayanika Kapoor, Common Sense Media
Not the Girls You're Looking For Book Poster Image
Half-Iraqi teen finds her way in scattered coming-of-ager.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers learn about Iraqi culture and Ramadan. Also about going to the doctor to get birth control in advance of having sex.

Positive Messages

Stay true to yourself no matter what people say. Sweet messages about loyalty, female friendship, acceptance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Narrator Lulu is a young woman of color. Lulu and friends make quite a few questionable decisions, but she has a strong sense of self and has to overcome obstacles and face prejudice of her peers because of her ethnicity. Positive LGBTQ representation.

Violence

One instance of choking. A character gets punched in the face. Main character is kissing someone consensually when things escalate without consent and she feels violated.

Sex

The main character has sex. There's mention of "going down" on someone and an orgasm. Lots of kissing at parties, and vivid descriptions of sexual encounters. Reference to a hickey. Lulu and her friends make comments about how many people they've kissed or had sex with, shaming one another for some of their decisions.

Language

Strong language throughout, including "f--k," "f---ing," "s--t," "slut," "douche," "giving him the finger," "damn," "ass," "boob," "a--hole," "d--k," "goddamn," "piss," "bitch," "hell," "crap," "c--k," "whore," "Jesus," "Oh my God."

Consumerism

Mention of alcoholic drink Everclear. Mention of car brand Datsun.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Heavy drinking throughout with little to no consequences. Mentions of several different alcohol drinks such as vodka, Everclear, beer. One character drinks so much that she vomits, with no consequences. Multiple references to a "vape pen" and several characters smoke weed. Mention of a character smoking a cigarette. Characters get into a club and then erase their "underage" stamp so they can drink.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Not the Girls You're Looking For is an edgy book for older teens that deals with friendship, family, ethnic prejudice, and romance. It centers on Lulu, a biracial Arab American Muslim teen (her mom is a white American Catholic, her dad an Iraqi Muslim) during the month of Ramadan. Almost all the teen characters drink heavily at parties, and there's kissing and vivid descriptions of sexual encounters. Lulu has sex and prepares for it by going to the doctor to get birth control. There's a confusing portrayal of consent (the encounter begins as consensual but then turns) and blurred lines about what's OK and what is not. And there's strong language throughout, including "s--t" and "f--k." The book has a positive message about staying true to yourself no matter what people say and being loyal to people who love you for you. Teens may want to discuss the discrimination Lulu faces as a half-Iraqi girl and what love and relationships should look like.

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What's the story?

In NOT THE GIRLS YOU'RE LOOKING FOR, Lulu Saad is a half-Iraqi teen living in Houston, Texas, inseparable from her three best friends. It's senior year and everything's going great -- except for that horrible Dane Anderson in her French class. Into her life walks charming James, and Lulu is inexplicably intrigued by him -- so much so that she pushes him into a pool. From then on, things tumble out of control -- from outbursts at Ramadan to fights with her friends and numerous drunk party mistakes. Amid the mess, Lulu must figure out who exactly she is, what's important to her, and who's worth fighting for. And while she repairs relationships with loved ones, Lulu's cooking up a revenge plot to make sure that no one ... and she means no one ... messes with her and the people she loves.

Is it any good?

Through the flawed, vulnerable character of Lulu, this coming-of-age story offers an authentic perspective on what it's like to feel caught between two cultures and not fully a part of either one. Lulu's experience as a biracial Muslim can be relatable for teens who've ever felt isolated because of their ethnicity, and having her as the narrator gives readers an honest glimpse of the discrimination that Muslim Americans face. Teens may find themselves relating to parts of Lulu, but the plot is all over the place, with no clear direction at times, and some of the characters are underdeveloped.

Lulu is a confusing character, and there are a lot of things that may disappoint readers about her and her trash-talking girlfriends. While her group of friends is very close and they stand up for one another, they also put one another down quite a lot, for no apparent reason. James and Lulu's romance is very cute and playful, and teens will root for them to end up together.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how discrimination of Muslim Americans in the United States is portrayed in Not the Girls You're Looking For. Why does Lulu not feel welcome in the Iraqi community or the American one? 

  • What other books have you read about the experience of Muslim American teens? How does learning about kids from various religious or cultural heritages and reading books by authors from various backgrounds expand your worldview?

  • Why do you think Lulu was so scared to fall in love before James? What about James made her feel safe and comfortable?

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