Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


When Cass stumbled upon a roleplaying group for her favorite book series, she never expected to start her own or for it to become her safe haven. In the sixteen months she’s watched her parents’ marriage deteriorate, Cass has turned to her online friends and their made-up world for escape, camaraderie, and comfort. As important as her roleplaying friends are, especially her character ship partner and online BFF Rowan, she’s kept them a secret for fear roleplaying would get taken away from her, as she had struggled with gaming addiction in the past, and well, maybe she’s not been doing her homework or studying for exams or even applying to college like she should. It’s cool, though, Cass has it all under control! Besides, when her mom suddenly bails on the family for a man she met online (after all her warning about online stranger danger no less), Cass needs to escape more than ever.

However, not everything in the real world is terrible, as her crush, Taylor, asks her out and Cass and her dad are spending more time together. At first, dating Taylor has Cass swooning, but having a girlfriend becomes complicated when you’re keeping important people and a huge part of your life secret. Taylor wants to get to know Cass and spend time with her—time Cass would rather spend roleplaying, and as the reality of who Taylor is versus who Cass envisioned her to be sinks in and their relationship moves at hyper-speed, Cass feels increasingly overwhelmed and uncertain. It also doesn’t help that when she finally meets Rowan, she realizes she has feelings for her. As the lies pile up and Cass’ online and offline worlds collide, she’ll have to finally face reality and the consequences of her actions.

Out of Character is a coming-of-age story following Cass, a seventeen-year old who struggles with overthinking and moderation, coming to the realization that while reality may be painful and can’t be scripted, it still has to be lived and valued. Structurally, the main narrative is intercut with snippets of roleplay scenes and personal messages that help with the pacing and overall tone. I really enjoyed all the characters, especially Cass’ offline BFF, Tate. He knows Cass so well and is so supportive, but is given enough life that he’s not just the token bestie prop for Cass. The friends in the group apart from Rowan aren’t as fully realized, but the structure of the book and their appearances still work and add richness to the story. As a character-focused story where not much happens, the narrative is a relatively quiet, internalized drama that’s not overly angsty/emotional, even when conflict arises. Cass is stuck in a cycle of hiding for most of the story; when something changes either IRL or online, Cass loses herself in pretending.

It’s established early on that Cass has a tendency towards addictive behavior, so her fear that she’ll lose her roleplaying if her parents see how it’s affecting her grades has some validity (if they hadn’t been so wrapped up in their imploding marriage). The dynamics in Cass’ household and how they affect her emotions and her decisions are relatable, but if you can’t buy-in to how intense Cass is about keeping her roleplaying a secret, then watching her lie about something that isn’t actually an issue may be hard to empathize with for an entire book. There also isn’t much in the way of character growth as Cass is basically the same from beginning to end—she already knows ignoring her responsibilities is wrong; she knows dishonesty is wrong; and she doesn’t correct any of it. However, she does eventually acknowledge good things in her life and learn how painful her inability to deal can be for herself and for others in the long term.

That is not to say that the story is boring; the narrative is a snapshot into a painful school year for a teenager whose family has fallen apart and her coping mechanism. Cass is smart, creative, and self-assured. She’s confident in her fat body, her queerness, and her nerdiness, but she’s also avoidant to the extreme. She ignores anything that isn’t fun or easy, and the emotional upheaval of losing her family unit or dating for the first time is definitely not easy. Cass can’t bring herself to be honest—honest about her emotions, honest about her situation, honest with her girlfriend, or well, honest about anything except her love of her favorite book series and roleplaying. Moreover, she has such an intense fear of losing her haven that she is incapable of contemplating any possibility where honesty does not equal loss.

Cass is her own worst enemy, as she has really supportive and understanding people in her life, so there isn’t logically a reason to be so secretive, but while hiding the roleplaying began as self-preservation, its all-consuming nature and the camaraderie she found with her friends became her private safe space and something she’s hesitant to share. She hides the roleplaying from her girlfriend because Taylor doesn’t like the books and Cass doesn’t want her cool girlfriend to dismiss something that Cass is so deeply passionate about. She’s protecting something that has been life-changing and solace giving for her. The friendships she’s made and the adventures she’s created with them feel so big and special to her that she likens telling people about it to coming out and exposing vulnerable pieces of herself.

Overall, I think that Out of Character is a pleasant story that will probably resonate well with its YA target audience and those with really rich online/fan community lives. Plus, it’s just really nice to have a story about an overweight lesbian girl that isn’t about her queerness and/or her weight; she’s just a normal teenager struggling with growing up.

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