We humans question a lot. We are also social creatures who gain happiness points from maintaining friendships and family relationships. Put these two together, and you have the elements for a fine novel.
The title of this young adult fiction novel grabbed my attention the moment I saw the book advertised, because I do believe that questions are the way to get to know someone well. Provided they “respond as honestly as possible,” as the experiment in the story dictates.
Two random strangers from totally different backgrounds are paired as subjects at a university’s ‘relationship building’ study. Hildy and Paul (aka Betty and Bob for privacy reasons) both seem less than thrilled. Hildy evidently comes from a well-off family, tries hard to be anyone but herself, and is interested in the exercise because she believes the coincidences that lead her back to the sign-up room after she first rushed out are a sign of her destiny. Paul, with his cool front and frustration at the questions being asked, is simply in it for the money.
The experiment was created in real life by psychologist Arthur Aron, who published the results in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 1997. Aron fell in love with a fellow student and together they embarked on a search for a recipe of love. Over time, he developed a series of thirty-six specific questions that aim to bring people closer together, even if they are total strangers.
It takes not only 36 questions, but also the space of some days for Hildy and Paul to get to the end of the experiment. The questions, answered truthfully, make them laugh, cry, and miss each other when life gets in the way.
Author Vicki Grant relies on the original set of questions as a foundation. Her story unfolds in the contemporary world, where it is more usual for people to message each other whilst going about their day than to face each other thoughtfully. She juxtaposes this intense interrogation against a backdrop of distractions, drama and hidden truths, forming her characters around the revelations they make about themselves as they answer the questions.
Every detail in this novel is a part of the plot, including Paul’s broken nose and Hildy’s newly bought King Kong puffer fish. The author leaves us hanging for the truth, only periodically and tentatively providing minuscule answers to the puzzle behind the Bob and Betty fronts. Meanwhile, the questions move the story forward, even literally, when once they are left behind at a diner.
The reader is taken along for the ride, looking into the heart and soul of the protagonists, being made not only to empathise with the unlikely hero and heroine, but more-so to see a little of himself/herself in them.
I tend to read fiction books only once, primarily because I tend to have a good memory for details. However, 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You belongs to the exclusive list of books that are not only captivating, but also contain the kind of humour that doesn’t get stale and a bitter-sweet tale. It is easy to class it as worthy of a place in my Hall of Fame.
The book for this review was kindly provided by Agenda Bookshop.