I rarely frequent the “Romance” shelves of the Young Adult section of my local bookstore. The pastel, hand-holding covers simply don’t hold my interest, and although I do enjoy a well-crafted love story, I normally prefer it as an accompaniment to a larger plot (ideally of the science fiction or fantasy nature). Nonetheless, surrounded by Valentine’s Day festivities and an overabundance of heart-shaped candies, I decided to pick up 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You.
The novel, written by Vicki Grant, begins in the office of a PHD student, who is conducting a research experiment on the psychology of falling in love. More specifically, he wants to see if two people can fall in love by asking and answering 36 predetermined questions. This is where Hildy and Paul come in. Hildy is an eighteen-year old thespian and high school student who has never been lucky in love, and whose idyllic life feels like it’s on the brink of crumbling. Paul is a high school dropout with a hidden past, trust issues, and a knack for drawing. Each volunteering for wildly different reasons, the two come together to discuss the questions and prove or disprove the PHD student’s hypothesis. However, their disparate backgrounds and contrasting personalities make being in the same room together a challenge and liking each other an impossibility. Still, they persist in completing the study, each question revealing more and more and building to the bigger question: “Could Hildy and Paul be falling in love?” Following Hildy during the study and beyond, 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You delves into what love is, how it lasts or doesn’t, and how people navigate it.
Stylistically, the novel contains a unique dialogue structure, in which the conversations between Hildy and Paul are written as if they were transcripts in a research study. I found this to give a unifying effect to the story, as even as Hildy and Paul’s plots diverged and grew the structure of their conversation always referred back to that initial research experiment. However, because romance scene writing is often made believable through movement and body motions rather than pure dialogue, I found the structure to prevent readers from getting a realized sense of their intimacy and attraction. Furthermore, the description of motion that is included in the dialogue is telling rather than showing, which then diminishes the reader’s connection to those pivotal moments of the story.
The characters themselves are fully fleshed out, but very similar to classic YA romance archetypes. Paul is the “bad boy with a soft spot,” who uses attitude to steel himself off from the world around him. Hildy is the “straight-A, spunky, nontraditionally beautiful girl” whose awkwardness/clumsiness verges on absurdity. They never go beyond these roles, even when their exposition is revealed, and the author makes no attempt to expand or offer insight into their predictable behaviors. Furthermore, their behaviors perpetuate many antiquated, unhealthy concepts that are present in YA, such as reinforcing the notions that girls are hysterical/overemotional, that if someone actively antagonizes you they actually like you, that or that girls should strive to be “not like other girls” (what’s wrong with other girls?). Essentially, instead of attempting to reinterpret or deny the many tropes and aspects I dislike about YA Romance, the novel plays fully into them in a way that I simply didn’t find effective.
On the other hand, I did enjoy the mix of romance and drama that the book includes. Hildy’s difficult relationship with her family members, her struggles with her friends, and even her encounters with her old crush, Evan, were both compelling and important to developing her character. Furthermore, I enjoyed the fact that Grant did not reveal the cause of Hildy’s problems until well into the story, which allowed for tension and readers’ interest to build in the meanwhile. The same could also be said for Paul’s mysterious life and past, both of which was kept from the reader’s knowledge up until the final chapters.
In all, 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You is far from a perfect book. However, for Valentine’s Day, it was a pleasant, cute story and a quick read. If you enjoy typical, sweet-but-predictable YA Romance, you’ll love its well-executed plot and fun characters. However, if you’re looking for a romance novel to revolutionize or stray from the expected YA romance model, you’ll be better off exploring other titles.