Book review: Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt

Usborne Publishing, 2017.
450 pages. Genre: YA
We rate it: (5 / 5)

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“Lexi Angelo has grown up helping her dad with his events business. She likes to stay behind the scenes, planning and organising… until author Aidan Green – messy haired and annoyingly arrogant – arrives unannounced at the first event of the year. Then Lexi’s life is thrown into disarray.”

The cover blurb for Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt hints strongly that the reader can expect a romantic read. To be honest, contemporary romance fiction does not usually draw me in. However I was intrigued by this story’s backdrop of conventions – where fans of books, film and comics get together to join discussions and generally celebrate all things geeky. Even if this was a romance set in the real world and not an adventure in some kind of fantasy realm; there would be plenty of elves, dwarves and heroes in the mix to keep me reading happily. And it turned out that was not all there was to love either.

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Capturing the Unconventional experiences of book fandom

The book initially draws us in to the life of 17-year-old Lexie who has grown up within the fan convention circuit and helps her Dad to organise the events. Keeping her commitments balanced is getting tough when college work cannot compete with all convention email trails and troubleshooting. Lexie can’t really figure out what she wants in life, partly because she has no time to think about it. But she is in her comfort zone within convention ops. Armed with her trusty clipboard and lists, and surrounded by the convention friends she loves, she can cope with just about anything. Surprises like a lost celebrity’s puppy or her Dad setting a date for his second wedding might throw Lexie off her game. But she is still very much in control of all things conventional.

However when a young author turns up in the green room without a pass and has the audacity to mock her clipboard Lexie is infuriated by his arrogance and swagger. At first I was dreading this being a book about a young woman falling for a man who is annoying yet inexplicably irresistible. Thankfully as the story unfolds it becomes clear that is not the case at all.

book-review-Unconventional-by-Maggie-Harcourt-photo-by-readinginspiration

The narrative flows easily from convention to convention, via fun pop culture nods and referencing. The event based pace keeps the pages turning well as Lexie falls in love with a magical book by a mysterious author.

Although I found this a light-hearted read – it is not end of the world drama – it is also not laugh out loud funny. Instead the gentle humour of the writing is endearing and touching. The characters are rounded and believable, and when they face difficulties we feel for them.

Author Maggie Harcourt is clearly fond of convention life herself. It comes across that she has been touched by the togetherness which bonds convention staff, guests and attendees. From cosplayers and comic book fans to competitive journalists and LARPers – the convergence of convention goers helps bring this world to life. The author’s writing style is funny, fresh and engaging. As soon as I felt in danger of being whisked away by romantic eye-gazing, a realistic yawn of convention exhaustion or a bit of awkward dialogue helped bring me back down to earth.

Great for…

Fans of YA writers like Heather Demitrios, Rainbow Rowell and Melissa Keil will love Unconventional. Also any readers who understand how it feels to be a fan – whether of a book, a TV show, film or particular genre – will appreciate the way this book understands fans and the way it is possible to get totally caught up in a fictional story, its characters and world.

Age guidelines

With some mild swearing, the age range of Unconventional is fairly universal. However, my ten-year-old caught a whiff of romance and ran a mile! It’s most suitable for teenagers and young adults. Many older adults will enjoy it too.

This book is great for when you want a relaxed but not a dumbed-down read. Overall I found it delightful. I love fantasy, but not gritty realism or unrealistic sweeping romance, so it was the perfect balance for me! Conventions could be seen as at a meeting point between reality and the wonderful world of the escapism of fiction. This book provides a peak into this world and the magical possibilities 2am holds.

What do you think? Over to you…

Do you like the sound of a book about conventions? Let me know in the comments below!

If you are looking for something grittier to read check out my pick of dystopian reads here. And if you are a fan of comics and sci-fi, check out my guide to the Buffy and Angel comics here.

  • Check prices and availability of Unconventional on Amazon here

 

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Angela

Angela is a Mum who has had plenty of experience of worrying about reading! When she is in the mood for serious reading she loves dystopian and speculative fiction including the works of David Mitchell and Margaret Atwood. But secretly Angela enjoys borrowing all her son's books and shares his love for middle grade fiction, especially fantasy. She has a background in education & publishing and believes all children - no matter what holds them back or where their interests lie - can enjoy wonderful story-telling. Angela has created this blog to provide a resource for families to find great books for the whole family - parents included!

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