Friday, 27 January 2017

Unconventional, by Maggie Harcourt

Lexi Angelo, the High Priestess of the Order of the Clipboard has been helping her dad run his events company since she was old enough to hold a walkie talkie. Juggling college, running convention operations and dealing with being a teenager is proving kind of difficult, but Lexi is taking it in her stride. With the power of immense organisation skills, lots of lists and a clipboard- she is somehow managing to get together enough Comic illustrators for the June panel and do an essay on Napoleon on the weekends that she isn’t attending one of her dad’s conventions all over the country.

Anybody who has ever been to a convention, or even been a fan of anything, will relate massively to the general *atmosphere* that is celebrated in this novel. There’s something genuinely life-affirming in being in the same room (yes, sometimes big, noisy, sweaty room with lots of swords and boardgames) as people that are like you. People that understand what it is to be a fan. This novel celebrates fandom in such a lovely way. I also loved that Melinda Salisbury made an eyebrow-raising appearance and the rowdiest table in the post-con bar were the YA authors. 'Surely not!' I hear you cry.

One of this book’s biggest strengths is Lexie- she’s a brilliant character. Frustrating, yes. Insecure and flappy and on the verge of bossiness, but also passionate, capable, a massive ball of geek and fangirl enthusiasm. Anybody who has ever read a book and thought ‘this was literally written for my exact eyes’ will be able to relate to her, con veteran or non-con. Lexi is good at what she does, and she enjoys it. And she enjoys being good at it too, which is absolutely ok. She counts her ‘real’ friends as the other con kids, the ones working operations with her, keeping everything running; Nadiya, Bede and Sam are her literal work family, the friends she sees a handful of weekends a year, but with whom she gets to be her authentic self.

I liked that we as the reader get time to get to know her before she embarks upon her Swoony Romance. We get what makes her tick, her insecurities and her dual persona; college Lexie and Con Lexie. It’s all in a day’s work when she, clipboard in hand, turfs out an unauthorised bod from the green-room and he’s kind of a swaggery jerk to her. “What a dick” she thinks, then goes home to read proof copy of a book that will change her life.

I quite liked the romance as it played out in this book. Ever an insta-love naysayer, I was pleased that Lexi and Aidan started off disliking each other, then slowly evolving from there. They seem drawn together, but reluctant to let anyone else in. It’s awkward and angsty and kind of adorable, in a condescending grown-up way. It’s a gradual, tentative romance; emails and second guessing and trying to divine motives and intentions based on a conversation you’ve re-run 15 times in your head. We knew already about Lexi’s two versions of herself, but in Haydn Swift/Aiden Green we literally get two people. A cocky, spotlight loving bestselling author, then a quiet art-nerd that pales at the thought of the stage. Pretty much everyone has different personas that they arm themselves with to deal with life, and it’s an interesting dynamic to see these two people work out if the real Lexi fits with the real Haydn/Aidan. I really liked Aidan as a character; he was sweet and smart and nowhere near as annoying as a lot of YA male protags who think they’re charming and funny.

A funny, enjoyable, fandom-galvanising read, featuring an intense, slow-burn romance,  good chemistry, well created supporting characters and a good coming-of-age realisation that, at 17, nothing is decided yet and there is still all the time in the world to work out who you are and do whatever it is that you want to do. Definitely a must for fans of Rainbow Rowell (on account of the fandoms) Non Pratt (on account of the lolz) and Alice Oseman (on account of the creative angst, identity themes and general well-crafted, real life teens).

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