Book Reviews Books

“21 Questions” uses a tried-and-tested formula for YA and misses the mark

21 Questions is a book about two high school teenagers, Brock and Kendra, who despite their differences form a meaningful relationship with each other and grow as individuals because of their bond. The book explores themes of grief, love, and friendship – all through the lens of the characters themselves. 

The book is set in Laguna Beach in California. This setting is important because Kendra is training to become a professional surfer. Her brother, who died before the book begins, was primed to enter the professional surfing sphere before he died of a drug overdose. Kendra has been experiencing anxiety attacks ever since. Surfing and meditation are what help her get through it.

Brock, on the other hand, could not be more different. His parents run a successful drug-dealing operation and Brock has been roped into the family business. He sells to classmates and friends. When we first meet Brock, it is clear that although he seems to enjoy this life, his first love is music – something he cannot pursue because of his parents’ expectations. When Brock and Kendra meet, they have an undeniable and immediate mutual attraction. The chapters alternate between Brock and Kendra’s points of view, giving the reader more insight into their thoughts and motivations.

I have mixed feelings about the style of language in this book. I admire the switch in the tone of language between Kendra’s and Brock’s points of view. Brock’s chapters are narrated the way he thinks – with a lot of slang and curse words, while Kendra is less angry and shyer. However, the excessive slang and text language make the book hard to read at times.

The novel is full of tropes. The underlying themes of this book are predictable. The bad boy male protagonist charms the straight-as-an-arrow female protagonist. He teaches her to relax and she teaches him to be a better person. It’s a formula that’s been applied many times before. Kendra is Brock’s muse in the sense that she is his motivation to stop selling drugs and play music. This is not to say that such formulae cannot be used – after all, they are so popular because they mostly work. But I personally do not think that was the case for 21 Questions.


Although it was heartening to see the characters learn and grow, I did not feel that inexplicable sympathy a reader needs to root for the characters. Kendra’s thoughts veered towards the ‘I’m not like other girls’ territory, throwing the feminism of the book into question. In fact, all the characters seemed to be one-dimensional. The girls who are not Kendra are overly superficial. Brock and his friends seemed to be obsessed with sex and not much else. Brock’s love for music does add another layer to his personality – but the troubled musician character is not one that I have patience for after reading and watching him so many times.

The story is on the whole predictable but is not without its surprising twists and turns. I would not have much of an issue with the plot if only it was told better. Two teenagers who have past family traumas that they are trying to get over in order to live their own lives. As a reader, I would have liked to root for the main characters a little more. Perhaps if they had more depth this would have been easier. I also felt that the epilogue was entirely unnecessary, but I will concede that I have a personal disinclination towards epilogues.


If you like knowing what the characters are up to in the future, then this book has a comprehensive epilogue that ties up the characters’ journeys nicely, albeit rather self-indulgently. By the end of the book, the characters have grown up. I just wish the same could be said of the book itself.

Want to give this book a try? Buy it on Bookshop or Indiebound and support local bookstores.

Love Life Stories

When I first met my best friend, I couldn’t stand her. Then one day, everything changed.

Aside from the officiant and photographer, there were just three guests at my wedding.

One of them was a former coworker-turned-friend, a relationship I’ve only managed to make work a total of twice. While I keep up with several former co-workers via social media (don’t we all), there are only two I would actually count as friends.  It’s hard to go from spending forced time with someone wherein you’re both getting paid, to spending time with them because you enjoy each other’s company.

This friend is particularly special because of just how different we are.

In many ways, we are polar opposites—her, the “hot sorority girl” (which I tease her about constantly), and me, the “fat alt-girl”; her, the straight, professional caterer, and me, the lesbian kitchen witch—yet somehow, we’re closer than I ever would have expected.

When we first met, I didn’t think we’d even get along at work, so to see how far we’ve come is genuinely boggling.

The first time I met her, I was on the clock and she wasn’t. She came in one afternoon and ordered a drink with a dairy-based syrup and nondairy milk. I asked, “Is it okay that there is dairy in the syrup?” She met my eyes, rolled hers, then flipped her hair over her shoulder and replied, “I know that. I work here.”

I had never seen her before; the reaction immediately turned me off. But in my best customer service voice, I introduced myself, apologized for the mistake, and laughed when another barista on the shift with me told her to put the claws away.

Obviously, first impressions aren’t the be-all, end-all, but they sure do last. After that first interaction, I wasn’t overly keen to work with this person. I assumed she had an attitude problem, which wasn’t helped by the fact that my manager at the time didn’t like to schedule her “because she was difficult.”

I would later learn that in fact, this manager thought most employees were difficult, and it wasn’t a reflection on my friend at all.

The first few times we worked together, our interactions were halting and awkward. One night, she offered me food, which I declined with the statement, “No thank you, I’m vegan.” This put her on the defensive, which made me want to tell her off for taking my personal choice as an attack on her character.

Another night, she went on for a while about her sorority sisters and I had to fight not to tune out because I know so many people with sorority horror stories that I have a hard time supporting them. We continued like that, in fits and starts, until one day, some months into our working relationship, things just clicked.

We discovered that we worked well together; I could trust her to complete her tasks and she could trust me to not only complete mine, but handle customer incidents and other disasters in the store. Slowly but surely, we started to bond over TV shows, movies, and music.

She offered me rides to and from work (seeing as I don’t have a car and live in New England, where the winters can be harsh, her offer was a lifesaver). We shared recipe ideas and interesting facts about our lives. When she broke up with her boyfriend, she told me about it, and when I got engaged, I gushed to her about it. We split the tab on takeout, started texting about non-work-related subjects, and steadily developed a friendship that has lasted, despite her leaving town after graduating and both of us being wildly busy with work, relationships, and other obligations.

Having her at my wedding meant the world to me.

She brought me coffee, drove me to the officiant’s house where my spouse and I got married, told me about her life and helped me do my makeup. She held my bouquet while I read a poem for my vows, cried with me before we all took photos, and generally did all the things I wanted her to do, often without me having to ask.

I tease her constantly about the first time we met because it was such a disaster compared to how comfortable we are with each other now.

She tells me that I was a know-it-all snob, which isn’t untrue, although I felt the same about her.

In the last 15 months, our relationship has changed drastically, and we’ve both grown up significantly. Watching her turn what I thought was an attitude problem into a voice for the voiceless has been absolutely incredible; seeing her succeed in her chosen field fills me with a pride reminiscent of what I imagine a sibling must feel, though I have no siblings of my own to compare.

Being her friend has taught me a lot, but mostly it’s taught me this: second chances can change your life, not only when you receive them, but when you give them. I don’t know where I’d be without her if I’m honest.

And if you had asked me, two years ago, what I thought about this woman, I would have said she was a brat and walked away.