Though I'm a HUGE Annabeth fan (read ALL of her books) this one just wasn't for me. Somehow the plot and the characters simply didn't "grab" me. I felt like the road tripping itself (shifting drivers and getting lost) and the card game (including too many actual games) made this, well, boring.. I used to be into RPG (Role Playing Games) back in the day so I COULD relate and yet I totally couldn't because I don't know this game (or interested in it).
Conrad Stewart seems like he has it all but it's all a front to a lonely life. He used to have a loving family, a promising start in college and a very active social life. What's left? Working in as many jobs as he can and playing "Odyssey ". After coming out his family basically thrown him into the wolves leaving him with no way of paying college (so he dropped out) and barely a way to make things end enough for him to even feed himself. Two weeks on the road to get into an "Odyssey" convention seems like a waste of time and money but if he wins the big price he might FINALLY have means to support himself (while doing something he loves).
Alden Roth looks to have won the jackpot of a family. Two extremely loving moms (and two older sisters) with a planned future as a doctor. But he hides how much his family's expectations is weighing on him. He hasn't been able to get into any program and after two years trying he doesn't feel like going through it again for a third. His moms are pushing him to make decisions concerning his future and all he feels like doing is hiding and playing "Odyssey" - one of the few if not only thing he feels he is good at. Though he has a group who plays "together" he struggles socially. The guys don't really like him - especially not Conrad but the convention might be his way out. Winning big can change his future! Though it might not be the kind his family "approves" of, at least they are happy he is going with friends.. (though they don't know they aren't really).
Both guys has MANY assumptions on one another and being together on the road (just the two of them) allowed them to get to know each other and see they actually have quite a lot in common. They feel stuck with no-where to go for totally different reasons. Both putting up a front to be able to "play the game" - the Odyssey as well as the game of life. They don't have it all together, they don't know how to build their future and what it would look like and they are both extremely lonely even when there are people around them.
I would have loved seeing how they attempt to figure things out together and the impact their opposite personalities each has on one another but the story dragged and I was just not into it anymore. It was in a way quite repetitive - driving while arguing about food/taking the wrong turn and general "rules" Alden has that Conrad couldn't care less about (like not eating in the car) and gaming in the shops around their route. They DID start to open up, their conversations on the road WAS the relationship buildup but the "surrounding plot", for me, left the story feeling flat.
There is one thing I want to mention and I don't know how to write exactly certainly because it's my personal opinion and I don't know if anyone else would see it this way... Conrad was annoyed with Alden A LOT. Actually I was annoyed as well but not for the same reasons.. See, Alden is said to have "neurological problems" but seeing the way he behave he feel quite clearly (to me) on the Autistic Spectrum though high functioning, something like Asperger (not sure it's labeled this way currently). For anyone NOT knowing how much of a problem he has with certain issues (like how strict he is in routines and adjusting to situations he hasn't predicted) he might feel EXTREMELY annoying and at times self centered. He is NOT. He is having the struggle of his life dealing with this journey. Yeah he willingly went but it doesn't mean it's not hard! But since Conrad wasn't truly aware he has this problem (he just saw him as being "stuck up") I was frustrated as well with the whole thing. I truly think that if he would have KNOWN, the whole feel of the story would have been different (for him but for me as well). I understand that the fact they are "rivals" on and off the game is the whole point of this book but this issues still rubbed me the wrong way.
I stopped reading at 36% where both are still on the road to the convention. There is much still to happen but I felt like it's becoming too much of a struggle. There is a lot I haven't said about this book (especially about the group they are playing in and who their journey together came to be) but I don't think it's the main issue so I decided to leave it out. Sorry Annabeth I'll catch up on your next book (I already have pre-ordered).