36 Questions is such a fun YA romance! Bad boy Paul and overachiever Hildy are paired up in a psychology experiment to determine if asking a series of 36 probing questions can make romance blossom between complete strangers. I remember reading about this type of experiment in the New York Times a couple of years ago, and being intrigued at the possibility. Both this novel and the New York Times article are inspired by an experiment conducted by psychologist Arthur Aron in the 1980s, and if you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, the NYT also printed out the full list of 36 questions. The idea of course is to create a sense of intimacy, however artificial. Asking 36 personal questions cuts right through all the awkward first date chatter and reveals the inner workings of a potential partner. The final part, where you have to stare into your partner’s eyes for a full four minutes, just enforces this sense of connection.
The realist in me thinks all this intimacy is artificial, that you may ‘know’ your partner for an hour and possibly even develop feelings for them, but that will all dissipate once you return to the ‘real world’ and go about your everyday tasks. The romantic in me just fell head over heels in love with the sparks flying between Paul and Hildy in this book. There’s a Filipino word ‘kilig‘ that I use when any English equivalent (‘giddy feels’?) just isn’t enough, and it perfectly encapsulates what I felt when reading Paul and Hildy’s banter.
The book is told in a non-traditional narrative style. Most of the book is just the dialogue between Paul and Hildy as they ask each other the 36 questions, evade the questions that get a bit too personal, and gradually allow themselves to open up to each other. I love the rapid-fire pace this allows eschewing any extraneous narration and integrating any additional details (e.g. the characters’ looks) seamlessly into the dialogue. A flying fish (really) switches up the pace a bit and gives Paul and Hildy a bit of a real-life break before they pick up their conversation and IM their responses. This gives us a glimpse into their lives beyond the questions, in particular Hildy’s family problems and the reason she tries so hard to maintain a perfect facade. Paul’s troubled family life isn’t much of a surprise, but Grant orchestrates some delightfully cheesy scenes at a diner from Paul’s childhood.
36 Questions is romantic comedy at its best. It unironically believes in love and earnestly professes the possibility of finding love through a psychology experiment. The characters have real problems — Hildy is dealing with major guilt about her family and Paul is dealing with major trust issues — and both characters do bond genuinely over emotional connection, but this all feels secondary to the sparkly repartee and hilarious antics (see: flying fish) that just propel Paul and Hildy towards their happily ever after. The final copy of the book will include illustrations (mostly in Paul’s notes to Hildy), and the descriptions alone made me squee, so I’m really excited to see how they turn out.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.