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.

Tech Now + Beyond

Here’s the REAL reason why I love your attention-seeking Facebook posts

I like girls who overshare on the internet.

I like girls who vague-book about their feelings, reach out for support, and tell stories of trauma. I like it when people crowdsource for advice on their mental health issues. I like it when my Facebook friends talk openly about their process of recovery from depression or eating disorders. 

You know that person on your timeline who posts a novel every day about their feelings? I live for that person.

I know I’m not supposed to feel this way. I’m supposed to think these people are “attention seeking” or “dramatic.” I’m supposed to think, “doesn’t she have any real friends she could talk to?”

Here’s the thing: vulnerability is a quality that I value in real life. Why wouldn’t I value it on social media? Whether I like it or not, I spend a good portion of my time on the internet. It’s very possible that Facebook is collecting all my personal details to sell to a Chinese company who sells puppy organs to white supremacists through child labor, but I still depend on social media for professional reasons.

One of the main criticisms I hear from people who opt to delete their social media accounts is that it’s “fake” (I’m picturing a Holden Caulfield-loving disenfranchised white dude using the word “phony.”) 

At the same time, these people are demonizing women and queer folks for being emotionally honest online.

We’re supposed to eschew social media in favor of more “genuine” interactions while disregarding the number of folks from marginalized groups who are already being their authentic, sad, weird selves on the internet every day. 

(Sidenote: my assumption that it’s mostly queer folks and women who share their feelings on Facebook come from mostly anecdotal evidence. If you know any straight cis dudes who post public about their body insecurity and anxiety, maybe give me their numbers?)

Before social media became so ubiquitous that your Grandma now understands Snapchat filters, people were using the internet as a way to make genuine connections with strangers. Does anyone remember the glory days of Livejournal?

When I was in middle and high school, my friends and I used Livejournal (and the occasionally Myspace bulletin) as an outlet for our teen angst. We didn’t necessarily have the understanding yet that disillusionment and depression were normal emotions that everyone felt, but we still needed a way of expressing ourselves. We’d write public journal entries about crushes, friend drama, boredom in our hometowns, and anything else we needed to talk about.

Now that the internet isn’t just for nerds or teenaged girls, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good space for honest displays of struggle and capital-F Feelings. Just because more people have joined doesn’t mean we should stop making it a place where we can be vulnerable with each other.


You might be thinking, “but shouldn’t we strive for better real-life relationships instead of just using the internet for shallow interaction?”

Yes and no.

Sharing your vulnerability and on the internet and sharing it in person are not mutually exclusive activities. Having an internet presence doesn’t mean you don’t also have friends in real life. In fact, it can mean you’re being more honest in the way you present yourself both in real life and online.

Social media gives everyone the chance to construct themselves however they choose. We can curate our interests, our shared opinions, our performative allyship. We can choose how people see us with the photos we display. It’s not “attention-seeking” or “dramatic” to curate your internet presence in a way that is honest to how you are actually feeling on a day to day basis.

In a world where women are routinely harassed just for existing on the internet, oversharing is an act of courage.

Love Life Stories

My world is a better one because of my father

Though I am the baby of the family, to say that I was always Daddy’s little girl is not exactly the case.

My father definitely has a soft spot for me. According to my sister, I get away with saying so much. But that’s only because when I attempt to speak Urdu with my dad I always end up butchering the few words that I do know. And they always manage to be words for inappropriate things, too. Go figure!

Of course, since my dad has a bit of potty humor, he can’t help but laugh. Also, as he gets older my dad just doesn’t have the energy he once did.  After a certain age, it’s just easier to humor your kids then try to discipline them.

All jokes aside though, I remember a time when I, as a somewhat rebellious teenager, would often talk back to my dad. There were no laughs then. I realize now that a lot of this verbal sparring might have stemmed from the differences in our personalities.

Although I inherited my dad’s penchant for worrying and anxiety, we have very different communication styles. My dad likes to talk and ask questions. I, on the other hand, can be reticent at times and prefer to write down my feelings after mulling over them for a few days.

Let’s just say my teenage years were not my best. At the time I completely misunderstood the probing. What I didn’t realize then was where it was all coming from.

For my dad, keeping tabs on all facets of his children’s lives was his way of showing love.

When we were growing up, my father worked extremely long shifts trying to make ends meet and trying to give me and my siblings the kind of life he never had. So when he wanted to know what I was up to after coming home from work, it was his way of trying to get to know his little girl who was quickly growing before his eyes.

But I never saw that. I was just a kid, concerned with my own feelings and problems. And as a child of the 90s, my dad’s kind of love was not the kind of “Kumbaya love,” as I like to call it, that I was used to seeing on television. (I’m sorry, but “Full House” is not even good cheesy).

Now, as I near my 30’s, I can appreciate all that my father has done for me. It was because of his insistence on being the best in school that going to my dream school was even a possibility — and he helped make it a reality. It was because of his exemplary model of always being on time (sometimes even before the hosts themselves were ready!) that I know the importance of getting things done right away.

And to this day, my father remains the one person I know I can call, any time of the day or night, whatever the reason.

He’ll drop whatever it is he’s doing and be on his way. He’s the most reliable person I know. His mere presence can reassure me whenever I go into panic mode. When I felt the first symptoms of the seizure I had back in 2012, I insisted that my work call my dad before 9-1-1. And then, as I was being pulled away on a stretcher into the ambulance, the first thing I remember seeing after coming to was my dad’s face — and that was all that I needed to know that I was going to be okay.

And let’s not forget all those times he cleaned my bathtub, the one chore I cannot stand. Man, I really miss him now.

I think because my relationship with my father hasn’t always been as sunny as I would like, in a way, it makes our relationship even stronger today. I love both my parents dearly, but seeing my dad in his ready-to-retire age pulls at my heartstrings in a way nothing else can. And though my dad will never publicly admit it, I’m definitely his favorite. I was sad when I hugged my mom at my wedding back in December, but when I hugged my father, we both lost it. I guess we were both keeping it in all those years.

These days, when my father calls me each Saturday morning, I sometimes feel like I revert back to my teenage self.

“Yes, Dad. I’ll get my Indiana driver’s license.”

“Yes, dad. I’ll enroll in auto insurance.”

“No, Dad. I did not see that Facebook post.”

After we exchange our “I love ya’s” and at times, “I don’t love you’s,” (we like to joke, remember?) before hanging up the phone, I think back to how far we’ve come. The love was always there, it’s just that now we’re both better at appreciating it and showing it. I now regard my father’s constant presence in my life as a blessing that I hope I never take for granted.

Love + Sex Love

This was my obsessive teen girl brain on love


Remember in the second season of “Orange is the New Black,” when Yael Stone’s character Lorna Morello broke into her ex-boyfriend’s home and took a bath? (Spoilers ahead, obviously.) She had gone out with him on one date and began stalking him after he told her wasn’t interested. She ended up behind bars for setting up a car bomb to kill him and his girlfriend. Watching these scenes, the words stupid and reckless went through my head watching these scenes. Lucky as hell, too. But as I think again of the sociopathic Morello’s infatuation, I realized that years ago, I wasn’t really that different.

Recently I found and began reading a journal from my senior year of high school. Much of it was filled with college plans, dreams and constant whining. But most of my entries were about a boy. Not the boy I was in a relationship with, the person whom I could actually say I loved. It was a classmate. He sat in front of me during art class; I had to look at him, and love at first sight was nearly inevitable. Focusing on drawing when he was present was impossible.

Years after graduation, I would learn that the reason I was acting this way was because of dopamine, often called the ‘pleasure chemical.’ Studies have found it’s crucial to the reason why people get obsessed. And I was obsessed.

Below is an excerpt, edited to preserve your sanity:


Every time spent with Lamont, I start to hate him. No, because I still love him anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. The thing that I hate is that he doesn’t seem to care about the fact that I said straight to HIS FACE (and not in a note) that I loved him and he goes blank-faced. He continues to go around acting like I never told him anything in the first place. Lamont does have a hard time showing his feelings, which Corey didn’t. Sometimes I just wonder how he’d react if I just walked up to him and gave him one of the biggest kisses I could ever give to somebody. Oh well.

I clearly already know at this point that Lamont, the boy I mooned over in art class, isn’t good for me, but I don’t care. The worst thing about it? Corey was the boyfriend I mentioned before. With Lamont, I never thought about ‘relationship’ things, as you can see.


It’s like that one slam poetry chick said, “The one everybody wants to sleep with, but not be with.” Do I feel that way about Lamont? I’m acting so hurt that he doesn’t seem to reciprocate my feelings, but I’m talking to this nigga like he’s already mine and not really talking to him in a sensible manner. Really, I should talk to everyone like I got common sense. Lamont is a human (a fucking hot human) and therefore I need to have a certain etiquette when I talk this way….I’ll continue to talk to Lamont but through a different lens. No more crazy sex talk, no more personal questions, just talk to him like a friend. Like a decent self-respecting virgin who’s addicted to sex…oh wait.

I admit, I kind of laughed at this one.

This was the last entry I found about Lamont. After this entry was written, I attended prom and had the last dance with him. Afterwards, I gave him a peck on the cheek. Even despite all the energy in the venue, Lamont still had a subdued personality. That was just how he really was. As the prom over, I was glad in my decision to go with my girlfriend as she and her sister sung along to “Fuckin’ Perfect” by P!nk on the radio.

I suffered from an infatuation – ‘an intense but short-lived passion or admiration for someone or something’ – but I’m no victim. I knew my behavior was wrong then, but I didn’t care. Now removed from Lamont and the infatuation clouding my mind, I’m able to look at my behavior clearly. According to Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University who studies romantic love and sexuality, there are three stages to love: lust, attraction and attachment.

[bctt tweet=”All the dopamine in the world couldn’t have solved my self-esteem issues. “]

All three stages did occur in my relationship with Jeremy. I wasn’t attracted to him at first, but I gave him a chance. This was at a point in my life where I wanted to be more open and thought having a boyfriend would help me get out of my shell.

But since Lamont was not in a long-term relationship with me, no real attachment could ever happen. Without that third stage, I was able to ‘snap out of it’ and realize my behavior was wrong.

What was worse was the resentment I began to harbor at myself. I blamed myself for Lamont’s lack of interest in me, calling myself stupid, ugly and whatever other negative descriptors popped into my head as I was letting it all out on eight-by-eleven paper.

All the dopamine in the world couldn’t have solved my self-esteem issues. Being in a relationship while not being content with yourself can be difficult and sometimes impossible. That’s not to say that you have to be one hundred percent perfect in order to be in a relationship, but it helps.

We often judge women for being “clingy,” never realizing that with a certain person under certain circumstances, we could be acting the same way. It’s easy to judge when you’ve never been there.

I now feel for clingy girls because now I feel that these girls, like me, had something missing inside. I thought I had to be in a relationship or things wouldn’t feel right. If only I had been as infatuated with building a relationship with myself.