September 27, 2017

36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You

Written by Vicki Grant
Running Press Teens
288 pp.
Ages 13+
October 2017

This is a love story.  It's the story of eighteen-year-old Hildy meeting nineteen-year-old Paul–though they're supposed to refer to themselves as generic Betty and Bob–as participants in a university research project to determine whether the asking of 36 questions could facilitate personal closeness that might result in a relationship.  Although the two teens come into the study from different perspectives, where they end up is heart-warming with a final scene right out of a Hollywood romantic comedy. (Yes, the book would make a GREAT film.)

Hildy is a bit of a mess.  She seems to be a little clumsy and does a whole lot of babbling though it's clear she is bright and astute and interesting.  But she describes herself at the onset of the study as someone who has
"...a lot of stuff happening in my life right now.  My own fault, of course.  Big mouth.  Tunnel vision.  Faulty social radar." (pg. 14)
That statement is very telling.  Without revealing all there is about her situation, Hildy suggests a crisis in her family, for which she is willing to take blame, but what is going on with younger brother Gabe, ER doctor mom Amy, and school principal and drama coach dad Greg, is only revealed in dribs and drabs through the context of Hildy's get-togethers with friends as well as in her meetings with Paul a.k.a. Bob Somebody both in person and online. (They have to extend their session beyond the original hour needed after she reacts to some comments he makes and she throws a puffer fish at him.)

Paul/Bob is more of a closed book.  When he's supposed tell the details of his life in four minutes (that's Question 11), Hildy assesses his answer as,
"That was a ten-second cover-up of a thirty-six-part docudrama.  What you didn't say was way more interesting than what you actually said." (pg. 62)
He gives very little away about himself and blankets most of his answers with an attitude Hildy doesn't appreciate. He does reveal his drawing ability in his endless doodling–mostly of a hand, Kong the puffer fish whom he adopts temporarily, and Hildy–and a love of drumming.  But Paul/Bob just wants to get this over with and collect his $40.

As the questions become more intimate and revealing, Hildy and Paul share more about themselves and seesaw between anger, frustration, appreciation and affection.  But when Hildy stands Paul up and can't locate him to try to make things right, it looks like the project and their budding friendship might all be in jeopardy.

Readers are going to fall in love with Hildy and Paul. They are so not perfect, separately and together.   They are masses of weaknesses and missteps especially when dealing with others and it's a wonder they ever got to the place where they'd want to do the psych study.  But, along with their weaknesses, they are strong and courageous and compassionate.  And yet, the two are infinitely different.  Still, Vicki Grant doesn't let that stand in the way of a great love story, one in which the complicated Hildy and the casual Paul can see beyond their frailties and foibles and expose themselves to possible happiness that no questions could have predicted. It is impossible not to laugh with them and laugh at them when you read their dialogue i.e., discussions based on the 36 scripted questions.

Question 10

Paul: If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

Hildy: I wish I hadn't been kept in the dark so much.

Paul: Explains why you're so pale.        
(pg. 53)

I know this may be a spoiler but I don't want readers to worry that Hildy and Paul might never get together.  Rest assured that Vicki Grant, with her trademark humour, will bring the two teens to completing their psych study obligation and, better yet, to undertaking a new, more personal, venture on their own, with or without Kong in tow. And it only took 36 questions.

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