The No-Girlfriend Rule by Christen RandallThe No Girlfriend Rule by Christen Randall is a slow burn young romance that is heavy on tabletop role playing and becoming one with your true self.

If there’s one thing Hollis really wants, it’s to fit into her boyfriend’s Friday night Secrets and Sorcery (aka Dungeons and Dragons) game. There is a no girlfriends rule, though, so she has to prove herself worthy of gaming with them before she can ask again to join. She goes to Games-A-Lot and sits in with a group of weird strangers but it feels like the room is closing in on her like a strong set of tongs and she escapes. As a last ditch effort on the way out, she takes the email address to another group that’s just about to begin a campaign and works up the nerve to join.

It’s a girls only group, and openly LGBTQ+ friendly, which scores no points with her boyfriend and his straight guys only group. After working up all the courage she has she actually goes to the game and discovers the girls are friendly, supportive and wickedly inventive. They become unlikely friends and form close bonds, especially with thin, gorgeous and super nice Aini.

Writing

For anyone who has ever done tabletop (or online) role playing, especially D&D, you will easily recognize aspects of the game, like having to create and participate in a shared fantasy experience that involves math, a good imagination, and the ability to think outside the box. Hollis, like everyone who has gamed, suffers from new player confusion, on top of apprehensions about her size, anxiety, and social status. In other words, she’s very relatable and creates a great foil to introduce the world of gaming and the love of close friends. The author not only creates a wonderful fantasy world for the characters (and the characters’ characters), but merges her two worlds and gives her a solid space to find herself for the first time.

The story is completely about Hollis and the reader gets to experience the joys and pains of her teenage angst, that doesn’t simply go away as she finds extreme friendship for the first time, as well as romance that isn’t predicated on societal expectations. The process involves a lot of introspection and discovery of her true self. I suspect there are a lot of people who will find Hollis not only extremely relatable but completely loveable.

Pros And My Favourite Parts

The biggest takeaway for me is how well the author took me back (way, way back) to my own halfhearted attempts to fit in with boys in high school. Time and again I found myself nodding and thinking, “Yeah, I remember that.” I assume that most people feel at least a little uncomfortable with themselves in high school, especially in their senior year with Life looming large on the horizon. Every time Hollis begins to come to terms with her issues and private demons, like body image and romance expectations, I not only loved her a little more but felt her struggles down to my core.

Paired with her internal struggles, she finds the love of friends for the first time. The author beautifully blurs the lines of real life and gaming fantasy a few times to enhance and illuminate her growth. I both loved and was jealous of how completely into the game this tightknit friend group became. They helped her discover she didn’t have to be the girlfriend doormat. The moment she figured out she could be more in life than “just the girlfriend” I nearly cheered.

Heads Up

There is a lot of teenage boy misogyny and a few negative comments about trans and queer people.

The Conclusion

Hollis desperately wants to fit in with her boyfriend’s Friday night Secrets and Sorcery (aka D&D) group, but she has to earn a spot gaming elsewhere because of the no girlfriends rule. After a disastrous attempt at the local game store she begins a campaign with an all girl, LGBTQ+ friendly group and discovers not only how much more she can be than “just the girlfriend” but also the powerful love of close friends, and an unexpected romance.

There’s a lot going on in the book, from Hollis dealing with body image, anxiety, and inability to truly fit in with her boyfriend’s gang. Through real life and gaming adversity, she grows into herself and it’s a treat to watch. If you have tabletop gaming experience you will recognize and enjoy that aspect, and it you’ve ever been a teenager trying to figure out life you will enjoy that aspect.

Excerpt from The No Girlfriend Rule by Christen Randall

And the game began.

“With bustling streets and a citizenry striving for the finer things in life, Fallon’s Landing—the capital city of the Second Realm—lives up to its cosmopolitan reputation. Today is Blessing Day, a local holiday for thanking and affirming the governing families of the city.” Now and then, Gloria’s eyes flicked downward as she spoke, probably to the notes she’d prepared for tonight’s adventure. Hollis listened closely, her breath still shallow in her chest, her gaze going soft as she focused. “Every corner and balcony are hung in cerulean and bright green, deep purple and periwinkle, amber and pine—the colors of the governing families.

“The movement of feet and the scent of cool ale in the air—”

“Ale!” shouted Fran.

“Shhh,” Aini hushed her.

“—and the riot of color seems to condense in the city’s center. Everyone is packed into a wide central square, from which all the roads in Fallon’s Landing spoke out. At the very center, a stage of shining wood has been erected.

“This is where the five of you find yourselves. You’ve been hired on as security for the event.” Gloria paused, taking a moment to look at each of the girls at the table. When her brown eyes met Hollis’s, Hollis flushed with excitement. “Why don’t you each tell us—briefly—what brought you into the employ of the city for the day and where you are in the square.”

She nodded a silent You start to Fran.

“Hi,” said Fran. “I’m Mercy Grace. I’m here to smash stuff if this event goes south, and also for coin. I’m standing by an ale cart—to guard it, of course.”

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Bits and Bobs

ISBN number: 978-1-78269-447-2

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Christen Randall Online

 

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