Conventionally Yours captured hearts with its story of card gamers falling from hate to love, and now Annabeth Albert is back with its sequel, Out of Character, the story of a devoted card gamer and the former jock who once lost his trust – and who now might steal his heart.
Jasper Quigley is usually the ‘funny friend’, the third wheel or the comic relief. And frankly, it’s getting old. But he’s not so desperate as to be happy when his ex-best-friend comes begging for his help. Milo wasn’t there for him when he needed it most, and that’s not something Jasper ever wants to forgive. But Milo’s been conned out of his brother’s rare, expensive Odyssey game cards and only Jasper can help him replace them. Since Jasper also needs someone to help with his cosplay group’s visit to the children’s hospital, he figures they can make a deal which helps them both – but also keeps Milo at arm’s length. But the more time they spend together, the more he sees Milo’s regret over the past, and his desire to make things right. And if their friendship can get a second chance, who’s to say love isn’t on the cards?
There was so much to love in this book. The characters were so distinct, with unique perspectives, that it was easy to tell everyone apart and get invested. As in its predecessor, this book touched on the full spectrum of abilities, from the chronically ill to learning disabilities, which was a refreshing and grounded take. I liked that this book focused on a very different angle than Conventionally Yours, so the reader gets introduced to a different side of fan culture, including its mainstream reception: Milo is embarrassed to be in costume in public, until he sees what a difference it makes to the kids at the children’s hospital to play with their favorite characters. I also thought Albert did a good job showing the many different anxieties and coming-out experiences that people have, depending on their family life and circumstances. It’s an excellent story of mutual respect and meeting each other halfway to make a real relationship work.
If you like card games, cosplay, a quest for redemption, or a romance with just enough drama and lots of heart, this might well be the book for you.
Spoiler alert: as far as romance novels go, I’m not a huge fan of what’s called the “enemies to lovers” storyline. To me, strong dislike is an odd and unlikely foundation for a relationship, so the story always feels implausible and vaguely annoying (yes, this includes Beauty and the Beast). That preference of mine still holds true in the case of Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert: the protagonists start off as enemies, and I don’t really care for it. However, the book has a lot of other things going for it which balance that part out.
Conventionally Yours is the story of Conrad and Alden, who have been playing the card game Odyssey in the same group for several years. They don’t get along: Conrad thinks Alden is arrogant and uptight, Alden thinks Conrad is a bit of a slob skating by on charisma. It doesn’t help that they’re the group’s two best players, constantly butting heads over the game. Unbeknownst to each other, they’re both going through a hard time when the book opens, each in great need of a miracle. The miracle comes when they’re given the chance to go to a big convention for Odyssey fans and play in a tournament which gives the winner a big boost of fame and a cash prize, not to mention the chance to become a professional player. The only catch: the convention is on the other side of the country, and to get there, they have to drive…together. As the miles roll on, they find themselves getting a better understanding of each other, and a genuine connection blooms. But the tournament can only have one winner, and the stakes are high for both of them – can their fragile new relationship survive?
Even though I don’t care for “enemies-to-lovers” romances, this book does include lots of other things I love: lots of diverse representation, realistic emotional stakes, cute illustrations, and homages to the world of fandom and fanfiction (where “there was only one bed” remains a beloved plot device). The characters are well-rounded and likeable, the romance is sweet, and the portrayal of gaming, fandom, and LGBTQ friendship is loving and on-point. If you’re looking for a feel-good read, and like some of these tropes more than I do, I definitely recommend trying Conventionally Yours.