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.

Books Pop Culture

Five characters I’d kill off in a heartbeat

Seriously, these characters are the absolute worst and if the author decided to kill them off, the world really would be a better place. Okay, so maybe I’m slightly exaggerating, but sometimes characters just make the silliest choices and are entirely self-destructive.


1. Bella from the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer

Yup, no surprise here. Bella makes some of the worst choices in YA heroine history. The second book, New Moon, is pretty much Bella just moping around and being broken-hearted. Seriously, about a third of the book is just Bella writing in her diary, complaining about how she cannot live without Edward. Bella is incredibly boring, has zero self-preservation skills — and, for some reason, really likes to attempt suicide so that Edward/Jacob can save her. This picture pretty much perfectly summarizes how I feel about Bella:


2. Lydia from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jane Austen is skilled at creating some truly terribly characters. Lydia Bennet is definitely on my list of Jane Austen characters I wouldn’t mind being run over by a carriage or something. Lydia is careless and has no sense of what her actions can do to her family. Does she flirt with all of the officers? Yup. Elope with Mr. Wickham? Yup. Learn from the consequences of her actions? Nope. Lydia doesn’t see how shameful the things she does are — and, as Jane writes after Lydia returns from her elopement, “Lydia was Lydia still; untamed, unabashed, wild, noisy, and fearless.”

Flynn Rider in "Tangled"

3. Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Oh Dolores Umbridge, why couldn’t you be chased out of Hogwarts sooner? Umbridge makes life a living hell for both Hogwarts students and staff. She makes terrible decisions, is incredibly rude, and is just straight-up annoying. I really hope she rots in Azkaban forever.

Imelda Staunton in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1


4. Brit Pheiffer from Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick 

Stockholm syndrome is never attractive. Brit makes the dumbest choices ever. She gets lost in the mountains with her friend, they find a cabin with two hot/shady guys in it, and then decide to flirt with them. Just to give you an idea of how foolish and naive Brit is, here’s a quote she actually utters:

“I tapped my cup to his, grateful to have found Shaun, because for a minute there, I’d thought I was going to have to save myself. Instead, I’d wandered into the protective care of a sexy older man.”

Britt, please do not turn into Bella Swan and murder feminism in one sentence! And of course, because Brit is an idiot, she falls in love with her kidnapper (the “sexy older man”). After the Stockholm syndrome bit, Britt most definitely went on my “dumb characters who shouldn’t exist” list.


"I can't fix stupid" meme


5. Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

One of my favorite moments in my high-school English class was when my class went on a rant about how awful Daisy is — she’s an incredibly selfish, spoiled, and greedy person who really should have died in that car crash. (Too far?) Nick Carraway puts it best when he says:

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”


Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby