Review: 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You

36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You
Vicki Grant
Published October 17, 2017
Running Press

I should admit upfront that contemporary YA is not my favorite genre, but I was intrigued by the premise of this book. It’s based on a psychology study that claims that two subjects answering a series of 36 questions can develop a level of intimacy that can lead to love. I had heard of the study and found the idea of it interesting (the New York Times had a piece in their Modern Love column about the questions). So, the idea of a YA book based on this study grabbed my attention.

36questionsHildy is a high school senior with major family problems that she blames herself for. She signs up for a university psychology study in an effort to learn something about herself. She’s paired with Paul, who’s just there to earn $40. The experiment doesn’t go all that well at first, since Hildy is an oversharer, and Paul doesn’t take things very seriously. They only answer a few of the questions before Hildy throws a fish at Paul (it’s a long story, but the fish is an integral part of the plot) and storms out. But Paul really wants his $40, so he tracks Hildy down online and they start answering the rest of the questions, which brings them closer.

I enjoyed this one, and it was a solid 3.5 stars for me. The two main characters felt a bit like stereotypes at first (Hildy seems like an adorable, klutzy manic pixie dream girl, and Paul is a snarky loner), but as the book went on, they felt more fleshed out. Hildy’s family is imploding, and she feels powerless to help them. Paul hasn’t had an easy life, which makes him guarded and more than a little sarcastic. More than half of the book is in the form of ongoing text message conversations, in which the pair attempt to answer the questions, get easily side-tracked, and learn a lot about each other.

I enjoy epistolary novels, and I guess novels in text are the 2017 equivalent. There are a few standard narrative chapters, but most of the book is in text format. Paul is an artist, and there are going to be illustrations in the final version of the book., (Unfortunately, the illustrations weren’t in the advance copy I read, but I think they’ll add a lot to the story. I’m all in favor of the trend of including illustrations in YA books. Or non-YA books. I like pictures.)

This book is a clever twist on the typical YA contemporary romance, and I think it may appeal to readers who don’t usually read this genre.

I received an ARC for review from Amazon Vine.

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Review: All the Crooked Saints

All the Crooked Saints
Maggie Stievater
Published October 10, 2017
Scholastic Press

I loved Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle books, so I had high hopes for All the Crooked Saints. I’m happy to say that I loved it.

The Raven Cycle books had magical elements, but this time, Stiefvater has gone full magical realism. All the Crooked Saints is the story of the Soria family. The Sorias live in the Colorado desert in 1962. They have the ability to perform miracles, and in each generation, there is a Soria saint who is responsible for the miracles. Pilgrims come from all over in need of a miracle, and the saint provides them. Of course, these miracles aren’t exactly the Virgin Mary appearing at Fatima. The miracles cause the pilgrim’s Saintsinner darkness to manifest physically, which leads to some very bizarre things, such as a priest with the head of a coyote and a woman who is constantly rained on. There’s a catch to the miracles: once the first miracle happens, the Sorias can’t interfere or advise the pilgrims on how to progress to their second miracle, because that will trigger the Soria’s inner darkness and Soria darkness is much worse than normal darkness. This means that the pilgrims come to the Sorias, and many of them don’t leave.

The younger generation of Sorias includes three cousins: Daniel, the current saint, Beatriz, a girl supposedly without feelings, and Joaquin, a pirate radio DJ. The three are very close, and when Daniel breaks the rules and his darkness manifests, Beatriz and Joaquin are desperate to save him, despite family opposition.

This book is really wonderful. I was captivated from the first line: “You can hear a miracle a long way after dark.” Stiefvater’s writing is really beautiful and strange and imaginative. For example:

“Here was a thing Beatriz wanted: to devote time time to understanding how a butterfly was similar to a galaxy. Here was a thing she feared: being asked to do anything else.”

At just over 300 pages, this is a fairly short book, but it packs so much into those pages. There are a lot of characters, and although some of them are only seen briefly, they’re all very distinctive (see the above-mentioned coyote-headed priest) and Stiefvater’s evocative writing makes them come alive. The focus is on the three cousins, and Beatriz is my favorite. She’s known as a girl without feelings, but she actually has many feelings. It’s just that she processes those feelings a bit differently than everyone around her. What seems to others to be a lack of feeling is actually Beatriz analyzing every aspect of her feelings before deciding how to react. She’s a fascinating character, and although this is a stand-alone novel, I’d love a book about her.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.