When a hipster man comes into Summer Auto Garage and is greeted by a woman asking him questions about the problem with his vehicle, he’s incredibly dismissive. Of course he is. Why is this secretary asking about his van? Because Kyla is the co-owner of the auto garage and practically runs the place alone while her brother, the other co-owner, runs around with his girlfriend and takes loads of time off. Kyla is a mechanic, orders parts, and does all billing on the computer.
But when she receives a phone call from her brother saying he’s broken his arm on a ski trip and can’t help at all (not even the billing, Billy? so lazy…), Kyla panics. It’s not just the auto garage. She’s also a costume designer, making one-of-a-kind pieces for cosplayers at comic conventions, and the big Comic Con in San Diego is coming up. With a chance to win a costume contest and land free advertising in a magazine, Kyla isn’t screwing around with Billy’s idiocy.
The only mechanic she can afford (that is, a volunteer) is Jericho, a traveling mechanic who customizes motorcycles. When he was a teen, Jericho and his mother fought like crazy, so he spent most of his time on Kyla and Billy’s family couch — and even more time at their house after Jericho’s mom threw him out. But chosen family is still family, so Jericho heads to Summer Auto Garage to be of assistance.
One of the first things I noticed about Cathy Yardley’s Game of Hearts is she has a diverse cast of characters, but never adds labels to them in a ham-handed way. She doesn’t write, “Jericho is a 6’7″ Native American with a white mom.” Information about his parents and heritage aren’t clear until around 2/3 through the novel. Other characters — a gender fluid person, a person with agoraphobia, or even Kyla in regards to her size — are all introduced as people first, and then context clues tell readers the rest. I’ve read some pretty exhausting books that work really hard to make sure you know their characters aren’t all straight, white, cis people, which always takes me out of the story. Plus, that’s not how I am introduced to people in real life, so it reads awkwardly. Yardley does an excellent job writing a diverse cast of folks who are individuals before labels.
The author also encourages all of her characters to be decent. When Billy says to Jericho that he’s not worried that his friend would date his sister, because Kyla is not Jericho’s type, Jericho is confused. Billy’s reason: because she’s “heavy.” Yardley’s choice to write contrasting male characters demonstrates she knows how people tend to be — Billy is selfish, shallow — and how people can be — Jericho admires Kyla for her work ethic, loyalty, and creativity — creating foils for a refreshing romantic comedy with a fat female character treated with dignity and isn’t fetishized.
Game of Hearts include a few steamy scenes and plenty of playful dialogue. There are characters we root for and those we can hate, so the tension between people drive the plot forward. When you pick up a rom-com, you know you’re in for a happy ending, and Yardley leads us predictably there. Well, except that part where Kyla disables a potential kidnapper and then puts him a costume contest. Fresh yet obvious, Game of Hearts is a fun read that will fill a few hours of your time.
Can’t get enough? Yardley wrote more books about the characters you meet in Game of Hearts. At this time, I don’t plan to read them, but if you’re in the headspace for romance, nerds, and comedy, Yardley provides. Bonus: no need to read them in order.