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.

College 101 Life

10 things I wish I knew before my freshman year of college

Adjusting to the college environment during my freshman year of undergrad was difficult, to say the least. Namely, I began to struggle in the worst ways with undiagnosed depression and anxiety among other things. What’s more, there were many times I thought I wasn’t going to finish my degree because the pressures of adulthood became too overwhelming. 

However, throughout college, I clumsily learned many important lessons regarding how to effectively manage my mental health, how to navigate friendships, course work, and deadlines as well as why it’s important to trust your intuition during such a critical time in your early adulthood.

The lessons I learned throughout my college career helped shape me into the person I am now. So, here are the 10 things I wish I could’ve known before my freshman year of college:

1. Prioritize your mental health 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), over 40% of college students stated anxiety as their biggest concern. In addition, 75% of adults with anxiety disorder started showing symptoms by the age of 22.

With such high statistics of anxiety amongst college students, it’s important to regularly check in on yourself to make sure you’re okay. Making your mental health a top priority will also aid in ensuring other college duties can be properly taken care of.

[Image description: A cartoon brain holds up a sign that says, "Your mind matters."] Via GIPHY
[Image description: A cartoon brain holds up a sign that says, “Your mind matters.”] Via GIPHY

2. You don’t have to have all the answers right away

It’s perfectly okay to not know what to do with your degree after graduation, when you will graduate, or what you want to major in. Instead, appreciate the process of learning from others, learning about yourself, and learning about what you desire to take away from your college experience.

[Image description: A man from the show Schitts Creek saying, "you know what? I don't have all the answers.] Via GIHPY
[Image description: A man from the show Schitt’s Creek saying, “you know what? I don’t have all the answers.] Via GIHPY

3. It’s never too late to explore your options

Don’t let the pressure of having an unwavering plan stop you from pursuing another avenue later in your college journey. Understand, so much can change within 4+ years.

As a college freshman, keep an open mind to the possibilities that will come from the experience of navigating higher education all while coming of age. Don’t shut yourself off from any opportunities that may arise in your later college years, for it’s never too late to act on a different plan. 

[Image description: Beth, Jerry, and Summer from Rick and Morty standing around a table staring at a cube.] Via GIPHY
[Image description: Beth, Jerry, and Summer from Rick and Morty standing around a table staring at a cube.] Via GIPHY

4. Explore outside of your comfort zone

This step is admittedly difficult. I know because I’m an anxious, introverted person who has had a hard time even leaving my house or my dorm room at times. But as we all know, “you don’t grow in your comfort zone.”

Sometimes, new experiences take some courage. However, taking the occasional dip outside of your comfort zone will help you learn so many important lessons surrounding incredible things you didn’t know you were capable of.

[Image description: A man from Schitts Creek talking about growth outside of comfort zones.] Via GIPHY
[Image description: A man from Schitt’s Creek talking about growth outside of comfort zones.] Via GIPHY

5. Don’t compare yourself to others

To put it simply, your college journey is your own. At times it may seem other students are having an easier, more fun, and exciting college experience than you are. However, it’s likely you’re not directly seeing the possible stress, emotional breakdowns, and mental health struggles others are experiencing. Just focus on your journey and your health because that’s ultimately what matters the most.

[Image description: Naomi Campbell saying, "don't compare yourself to me ever."] Via GIPHY
[Image description: Naomi Campbell said, “don’t compare yourself to me ever.”] Via GIPHY

6. Build relationships outside of making job connections

Human beings contain more value than just being beneficial for monetary gain. Build relationships with like-minded people simply for the sake of having friends in your corner when you’re having a bad day and need a reliable shoulder to cry on. Or maybe you meet people and start a book club or activist group to spread positive messages of equality, kindness, empathy, and action.

Whatever the case, don’t let all your connections with people in college simply be for job or networking purposes. It will quickly come across as disingenuous and won’t benefit you as much as you might think in the long run.

[Image description: The Spice Girls dancing and singing, "friendship never ends."] Via GIPHY
[Image description: The Spice Girls dancing and singing, “friendship never ends.”] Via GIPHY

7. Find a mentor

Whether a professor, counselor, or fellow peer, mentors make adjusting to college much easier. Mentors will act as a guide through a difficult transition and offer necessary life and career advice that you’ll be able to utilize years after you’ve graduated.

[Image description: Greg Popovich coaching Derrick White.] Via GIPHY
[Image description: Greg Popovich coaching Derrick White.] Via GIPHY

8. Take mistakes on the chin

Trust me, mistakes are an inherent part of the college experience, especially your freshman year. Again, this is easier said than done, but simply take those mistakes on the chin. You’re human. Stuff happens. Take it easy on yourself, learn from mistakes as they come, and swiftly move on.

[Image description: Hasan Minhaj saying, "It is what it is.] Via GIPHY
[Image description: Hasan Minhaj saying, “It is what it is.] Via GIPHY

9. Seek help when needed

As previously mentioned, it’s imperative to put your mental health first. A necessary step in ensuring your mental health is taken care of, is seeking help when you need it. At the first sign of a decline in your mental health, don’t be ashamed to reach out to a counselor or trusted individual for assistance. Remember: you matter more than any assignment(s), exam(s), and deadline(s).

[Image description: Image that says, "It is ok to ask for help." Via
[Image description: Image that says, “It is ok to ask for help.” Via

10. Trust your intuition

Initially going into college, you may feel you don’t know much. In reality, you know way more than you think. College is a great opportunity to discover important revelations about yourself. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the advice from outside sources: mentors, parents, professors, etc. Do consider advice from others but also remember to trust that you know what’s best for yourself. Balance is key here!

[Image description: People at a basketball game holding up a sign that says, "Trust the process."] Via GIPHY
[Image description: People at a basketball game holding up a sign that says, “Trust the process.”] Via GIPHY
Adjusting to college is difficult. I know from experience. Always remember: take each day, each lesson, and each opportunity as it comes. Always prioritize your mental health, and trust yourself above all else. You got this!

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Career Culture Mental Health Money Career Advice Life

I cried on my way home from teaching today, and I don’t know if I can go back tomorrow

It wasn’t a particularly difficult day at work today. But when I got into the car, I started crying.

In my first month of work, a group of parents practically rioted during my presentation at our school’s open house. It triggered the shit out of me and for weeks I had panic attacks every morning before work. It happened so much I made up a jingle to the tune of John Legend’s “headband of the day” that was made famous on Chrissy Teigen’s InstaStories.

panic attack of the day, it’s the panic attack offfff the dayyyyy

I still sing it more often than I would like. But life goes on, mental health crisis or not. Soon, I started working a second job tutoring after school, which was my old job before I started teaching. Now that I am doing both, I’m working from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm for the four days a week. I still live in my parent’s house at 30 (almost 31) and I can’t afford the start-up costs of Miami real estate on a teacher’s salary, which is why I need the second job.

By the time December came around, I didn’t know how I was making it through the day. Leaving the house by 7 am and not getting home until after 8 pm from Monday thru Thursday meant I was getting home and passing out almost instantly, many days without having eaten since noon. Then my boyfriend asked me for some time to work through some issues that had come up in our relationship and I spent all of Winter Break feeling like my mental health flare-up was going to swallow me whole. I barely left the house for the two weeks I had off.

School started back up and I was glad to see my kids. My eye had stopped twitching from the stress and I had an appointment to see a doctor (yay insurance!) for the first time in years. Things were looking up. Then I got the monthly calendar for January, saw we had a week-long “Catholic Schools Week” celebration and my eye twitch came raging back. Just the thought of more interruptions to my already limited instructional time massively triggered my anxiety.

During the second quarter of the school year, my anxiety was constantly triggered at work by what felt like never-ending interruptions. The entire week of Thanksgiving was a wash and so were the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The quarter ended and I had about half the number of grades I was supposed to have for my fifth graders. I felt like I was drowning, that my first year of teaching would be a failure, that I would be a failure as a teacher, that I am a failure as a teacher.

But every day I walked into school and I would see the kids’ faces light up when they saw me and hear their voices greeting me, and then the good aspects of the job and the joy would win. I’m taking more medication now, too, but the kids really were what kept me going. When you’re someone’s touchstone, and that someone is 10, it lights a hell of a metaphorical fire.

Tomorrow is the last day of Catholic School’s Week and it’s a field day. I cried on the phone with my co-teacher, telling her I’m thinking about calling in sick. But I know I couldn’t do that to my kids. If it was just kids at school, I would like my job a lot better. I can handle the kids. It’s the adults that are the problem and I don’t know if I can handle the adults tomorrow. The emotional labor we teachers extol is so consuming, that an anxious introvert like me feels completely drained by noon most days. I routinely hide in the bathroom for 15 minutes during lunch to recharge.

I just don’t have the energy to spend on adults at work who have moods and personalities. I don’t have the emotional energy left to “manage” them or “play the game” with coworkers who are old enough to be my parents. That’s the advice my coworker gave me: you have to play the game.

I honestly don’t know if I have it in me, but I will go to work tomorrow.

Love Life Stories

I learned about having real friends the hard way

I held the assignment in my hand. I was proud, but also apprehensive.

My paper said one hundred percent. My insecurities had trained me to think that I wasn’t worth a good grade anymore. I tucked my assignment into my backpack silently. I almost felt guilty. I knew not everyone had done as well so I didn’t want anyone to know.

[bctt tweet=” It was filled with familiar faces, but none of them were my friends. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

I scurried off to class, and I didn’t think about that assignment the rest of the day. It was a big deal to me, but not something I wanted to make  a big deal out of. And that’s how I wished for it to be, not something big, just a little part of my schoolwork tucked in the expanses of my backpack.

After class had been dismissed I wandered off to lunch. I felt a bit unsettled. There was a lump in the back of my throat like I had done something wrong, but I didn’t know why. My mother’s mantra kept repeating in the back of my mind: “When you wish for something, the exact opposite of what you wished for will happen.”

[bctt tweet=”I knew not everyone had done as well so I didn’t want anyone to know.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I sat down in the theater hallway to eat my lunch, next to the student wall of fame. You know your school sucks when you can’t even eat lunch without being outshined by a wall of too-happy-to-be-real teenage overachievers. My train of thought was thrown off track when I was joined by my two best friends, Lillian and Samantha. I had known both of them for most of my life, so you could say they were my best friends. To any outsider we were the inseparable trio you read about in every young adult novel published, and I wanted us to be that way. But the truth was that we were friends due to familiarity, and I had felt isolation since we started high school.

I just didn’t want to admit it. I wanted to be a part of that trio.

I pulled out my lunch and I started eating while reading through my AP Biology textbook. Lillian and Samantha were just background noise until I heard them discuss the assignment. Lillian first complained about her ninety percent, arguing that she deserved better, that she was above such a bad grade. I closed my textbook and let my eyes wander the theater hallway. Samantha usually was quiet, but she spoke up too, adding that she had only received an eighty five percent.

Insisting that she had worked harder than that. I decided not to speak until spoken to, and wished that I would be ignored as usual. Lillian then asked me, “What did you get?” her ego evident in  her tone. She expected that I would score less than both of them, as usual. I reluctantly replied a hundred…

[bctt tweet=” I just didn’t want to admit it. I wanted to be a part of that trio.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Her eyes widened in disbelief and jealousy. Samantha just looked into me, as if I had turned into a purple penguin or something.

My stomach turned, but I was their friend so I listened. I listened to Samantha argue that she deserved more because she worked harder. I listened to Lillian argue that this was her best piece of writing. I listened to them blame everyone, but accept no responsibility. After watching Lillian, who was a bit more aggressive with grades, break down, come unglued, and lose all her composure, I spoke.

I told them that they weren’t doing anything to help themselves by putting responsibility on something else. I told them that if they tried hard then it’s okay. I told them to look at this as a new point to start from. A place to improve from. I told them these things because I was their friend. I told them because I struggled with science, and they had always made me feel stupid because I got a B, while they complained about their 94%. I told them because I had been in their shoes a million times in the past, and the only thing I ever wanted was for them to tell me the same things. I told them because I didn’t want them to be treated the way they had treated me for years.

[bctt tweet=”Her eyes widened in disbelief and jealousy.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I thought they would appreciate my words, think about them and realize that there a sliver of truth behind them. Instead they looked at me in the eye and spat, “We can’t all water down our expectations down like you.” I felt as if I had been punched. As if the floor beneath me crumbled. I felt my gut being twisted. I wished that they had just slapped me, and told me that we weren’t friends anymore.

I left. I picked up my lunch box and I moved to the commons area. The chaos calmed me down, and I found a table to eat at. It was filled with familiar faces, but none of them were my friends. My friends had always been Lillian and Samantha. I had never known anything more. I watched as the kids at other tables shared food, laughs and trust. They talked about what they wanted to do over the weekend, not how to get an A on the test. They talked about old stories, not worthless study groups. They talked about their appreciation for each other instead of making fun of each other’s failures. I learned what friends do.

[bctt tweet=”I told them that if they tried hard then it’s okay. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

After lunch I couldn’t think straight. I wanted to tell Lillian and Samantha how I felt. I didn’t hate them, I just hated how they acted. I wanted to go back to elementary school, when the only thing we thought about was whether to color with markers or with crayons. I wanted to be friends again. I wanted to be honest again, and tell them how they had made me feel. I wanted to tell them that I never wanted to take AP Biology. I only took it because I thought they would think I was stupid if I didn’t. I wanted to tell them that I tried as hard as they did, but I just wasn’t gifted in science. I wanted to tell them to be my real friends.

Except this was real life, not a YA novel, and I couldn’t force a friendship where there wasn’t one. Lillian, Samantha, and I acknowledged our shared past, but accepted that our future wasn’t the one we had made plans for. I made new friends and so did they. I moved towards becoming a debate  nerd and they competed for valedictorian.

In the end we all did what we made us happy. In a way I guess we all lived out our own young adult novels.