Skip to main content

Book Review: Defying Convention by Cecil Wilde

I don't read a ton of romance, but Defying Convention was just the romantic novella I needed at the moment: sweet, adorable, but with enough serious themes that I didn't feel like it was total fluff. 

This book was the cutest, OK? The. Cutest. 

Image result for five star image

So What's It About?

Defying Convention is the story of two best friends, AJ and Danny, who have known each other online for five years yet have never met in person. On impulse, they decide to attend a con together, hoping that their long-distance chemistry will translate to friendship...and potentially romance. 

Image result for defying convention cecil wilde

Characters, Cuteness, and More Serious Stuff

AJ was my favorite of the two. They are witty, sarcastic, and a ton of fun to read. AJ ends up being the sexual mentor of the couple (this is romance, so duh, they become a couple). We get the sense that Danny has a lot of body insecurity as well as sexual inexperience, so being with AJ helps his confidence.

These two are just?? So?? Cute?? And so perfect for each other? Their online friendship does translate pretty well to an in-person relationship. The sexual tension between them is obvious as well. 

However, they don't immediately spring onto each other in lustful passion or anything. They are careful about boundaries, talking about what is and isn't OK contact-wise, and picking up on body language. Defying Convention emphasizes mutual consent and respect -- for ALL levels of intimacy, not just sex -- in a way that much romance doesn't. It's a behavior model that I wish more people followed. 

Mental Illness and Romance

Consent and boundaries are particularly important to Danny, who has anxiety. Defying Convention shows some of Danny's symptoms and management strategies.

Image result for anxiety

Danny is also touch-averse, leery of physical contact and hyperaware of boundaries. I am touch-averse myself and I was initially so, SO worried about how this particular symptom would be handled in a romance novel. Most things I've read don't even depict touch aversion as a symptom. When they do, they paint touch aversion as an obstacle for the averse person to overcome (as opposed to a boundary for their partner to respect). Others depict romance as a cure for all things mental illness. 

I originally found Defying Convention in a list of no-cure narratives about protagonists with disabilities. Danny's anxiety is addressed but not "cured" by his romance with AJ. AJ is also absolutely FANTASTIC about keeping an eye on Danny, making sure they schedule breaks for him without insulting his ego, restraining their touchy-feely nature and only touching consensually, and just...!!!! Basically, it's the kind of escapist, wish-fulfillment romance I really wanted to read this week, because it's so sweet, and they are both so caring, and JUST CUTENESS EVERYWHERE OMG.

The One Thing, Though...

The only thing that jumped out at me as a red flag was this: After Danny has a panic attack, he apologizes to AJ for being sweaty and gross. AJ says that they still like Danny..."especially" when he's like this. That was a HUGE RED FLAG for me, because it seemed to fetishize mental illness. 

Image result for red flag

It's OK for a romantic partner to say, "I'm here for you no matter what" or even "I like being able to take care of you." That is nurturing and supportive. Not fetishistic. Saying "your illness/vulnerability/weakness/lowest point is what makes you more attractive to me" is basically the mental illness version of that One Direction song where the boy sings that the girl's lack of self-confidence is "what makes you beautiful." That's when the story stops being about the person dealing with mental illness...and becomes about the partner's desire to be a White Knight. 

Fortunately, the problematics of this are lampshaded by Danny. He wonders whether AJ is really attracted *to him,* or whether his vulnerability is attractive. This comment by AJ may have been meant to increase Danny's confidence at a low moment, but actually had the opposite effect. So...if you're dating someone with a mental illness, you know, don't do that. 

Later, the book demonstrates that AJ cares for Danny deeply and does not really fetishize his anxiety or want to be a savior figure. In fact, they're later turned on by a confident, commanding Danny.

Nerds Who Have Sex

AJ jokes that they're defying all kinds of conventions, including being two geeks boinking a lot. Silly comments aside, Defying Convention is a love letter to geek culture, fandom, and pop culture. This treatment ranges from humorous -- Danny admitting that 90's scifi was key to his sexual awakening -- to serious, when AJ and Danny discuss how they found a place among nerds and geeks when they felt like they didn't belong anywhere else. 

There's only one sex scene which I would call explicit, but this is erotic romance. Erotic romance focuses more on the characters' feelings and relationship, with sex primarily used as a way to create emotional intimacy rather than a tool to titillate the reader. The steamier scenes are great overall. 

Trans, Bi, and Racial Diversity, Hooray!

In addition to the depiction of anxiety, Defying Convention is an #ownvoices romance about two trans characters. Danny is a trans man, and AJ is nonbinary and uses "they/them" pronouns. The author is nonbinary as well. Defying Convention also showed some diversity among transgender people in terms of what steps different people may take physically in order to better suit their authentic selves. 

Image result for bisexual transgender flag
Trans flag!

AJ identifies as bisexual and Danny appears to as well, which was nice to see. Bisexuals have historically struggled with erasure, and the latest misconception floating around is that it's transphobic. People assume "bi" means "only two" and that those "only two" are just "men and women." The "bi" in "bisexual" refers to two kinds of sexual attraction: same and different-gender attraction. This is why bisexual is considered an umbrella term for other multisexual identities. This is also why you'll see many people abbreviate it as bi+. 

Image result for bisexual flag
Bi flag!

Ultimately, you should call people what they want to be called, whether that's bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, or something else. But the idea that bisexual is inherently transphobic can be erasive to nonbinary and transgender bisexuals. Defying Convention was positive bisexual representation that included a nonbinary bisexual. YAY. Benefits of supporting #ownvoices and indie publishing!

In addition, AJ is Sri Lankan-American. They talk a bit about their family and heritage. In particular, AJ mentions how their racial identity seemed to clash with the more visible, "typical" white nonbinary person. It's not a huge part of the book, but AJ is specified as a person of color from the beginning.  

Image result for sri lanka


It's a novella, but it didn't feel too short or too long. I have a hard time paying attention to longer romances, and this felt like just the right length. And there's a lot of meat to it (pun totally intended). I mean, I managed to write a pretty long review about a novella. 

Basically, this is a really good book, with nerd stuff, cute and sweet stuff, sexy stuff, diversity stuff, and other fun stuff, AND it's indie, AND it's #ownvoices. You should read it. 


  1. I want to get a copy! I had no idea that bi and trans had their own flags, that's very interesting. Thanks for posting this Laura, you read all kinds of books which is very exciting.

    1. Great! I got one when it was on sale, but I don't imagine that it's super-pricey normally since it's not very long. :) I don't read a ton of romance and I'm trying to branch out more...

      I think the flags come into play when it's a trans or bi+ group focusing on specific issues. Or, people attending general LGBT+ events who want to wear colors or a flag that identifies them, especially with bi and trans where it may not be "visible" that they're LGBT. Like if they've transitioned or if they're attending with a different-gender significant other.

  2. This sounds like a good one to add to my list. The cute + geek factor is appealing, and I've been enjoying the steamier chapters of my friend's Spellster series.

    Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. Yessssss they're so cute! And the nerdy/geeky references are accessible enough that you don't have to be super deep into geek subculture to "get it," either. There's no "geek gatekeeping," which is great.


Post a Comment

Comments make me happy, so leave lots! :) I will usually reply to each one, so click Notify Me to read my replies.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Hemlock Grove, ep. 1 and 2

Hello! I'm back from my blogging hiatus. I've been on a horror kick lately, and most recently, I watched the first two episodes of Netflix's Hemlock Grove. I'm a bit late to this series, but for what it's worth, here's my review. I have some...issues.  Pacing It's based on a novel, and you can tell. Once the show introduces something that might be interesting or lead to tension and conflict, it snatches it away like a precious plot-gem that it doesn't want you to see. There is way too much exposition and filler. The plot hangs together pretty well, but not much really happens. Case in point, it should not have taken two whole episodes to find out Main Character is a werewolf. Especially since everyone seems clued into this fact and accepts it as truth -- except the viewers. Then suddenly Rich Boy is asking if he can watch the transformation like it's understood that Poor Kid Main Character is a werewolf. No warning, no lead-up, nothing.

Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène, a YA Book By A Young Author

Review time! Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow is a young adult novel by a young adult, so I was very interested to read it. There's also a #MuslimShelfSpace tag going around, and this review is a nod to that. The idea is that there's been a lot of stereotypes and anti-Muslim sentiment spread around, so buying and boosting books about and by Muslims can help educate people and break down harmful stereotypes.  The author is French with an Algerian background, and  Guène  wrote Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow when she was in her late teens. Although the novel is not autobiographical, she shares many things with its main character. Doria, like her creator, is the child of immigrants and lives in poor suburban housing projects.   Guène   wrote that she realized girls like herself weren't really represented in books, and felt that Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow was a way to tell the stories of people in the suburbs who are ignored by the elites of French literature. Plot: Life Sucks, Until It Doesn

King Arthur Sucks.

I wrote a review of The Greenstone Grail by Amanda Hemingway , in which I applauded the book for being the first Arthurian adaptation I had read that I didn't despise. I mean, how could I? Despite the book's other problems, it had aliens riding motherfucking dragons!!! Aliens! Dragons! Parallel universes!  After reading my review, one of my friends asked me why I hate Arthurian legend so much.  Well.  Perhaps one of the reasons I liked The Greenstone Grail 's take on the Holy Grail myth was because it was so different.  Most Arthurian adaptations fall along the same lines. It's the same damn story told almost the same damn way all the time. But  The Greenstone Grail took place in modern times, borrowing from the Holy Grail and Arthurian myths without making it so central to the plot that there was no room for other stuff like imagination.  Say whatever else you want about this book ( and believe me, I did ), it had imagination. Its main character can dimension-