Novel: Solitaire by Alice Oseman | Goodreads
Release Date: March 30, 2015
Source: Inkwood Books
In case you’re wondering, this is not a love story.
My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.
Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.
I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden.
I really don’t.
This incredible debut novel by outstanding young author Alice Oseman is perfect for fans of John Green, Rainbow Rowell and all unflinchingly honest writers.
Dark but not heavy, Solitaire retains the very aspects of some modern culture: it’s captured the wit, the hilarity, with the edge of self-loathing and cynicism that seems to define similar aspects of Tumblr culture. The main character is bitter and yet likable, sarcastic but not unbearably snarky. At first, it seemed rather plain but the plot quickly picks up. After establishing the mindset of the main character, the book was free to fling itself in many different directions that were absolutely thrilling.
In essence, the book focuses on a girl named Tori. Tori likes to blog and she doesn’t connect well to people, but she has a general group of friends that she tolerates being around. She goes to Higgs, the all-girls school that starts to get boys in her year. When her childhood best friend Lucas moves to Higgs, along with a boy named Michael who’s infamous for being slightly insane, her world is turned upside down. At the same time, an undercover group called Solitaire start playing pranks around the school, tricks that seem weirdly connected to her. But after her brother’s issues last year and her struggle with her own self-loathing, she doesn’t need much more to be worried about. When Solitaire’s pranks get progressively more dangerous, and Tori explores her friendships with both of the new guys, everything reaches a breaking point.
Tori is the protagonist, is a girl who favors solitude and darkness but still finds refuge in an entertaining group of friends. She’s depressed but not lonely, self-depricating but not self-pitying. Although her moods are mercurial, she had a voice that carried over well into every page. The result is a character who’s strangely charming. It occurs to me as I write this that perhaps the reason I connected so well to Tori – that I appreciated her sadness rather than repelling it, like I do with most bitter protagonists – is that her honesty reminds me of Andi from Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly (which is my favorite book!) It’s a type of book with a character so real, so tangible, that I feel like I know her or at least the author.
The strange combination of other characters – Lucas, Charlie, Nick, Becky, all of them – contributed this radiancy to the rest of the book. Charlie and Nick were adorable together, and likable. Lucas was weird, and unsettling, and I loved him for that. Ditto with Michael. I love characters who make me doubt their sanity. Every character seems rather mentally troubled. It makes it much more exciting, and the already-foreboding tone of the book set up an explosive ending.
Michael and Tori had a fascinating relationship – not based on any romantic foundation, but one of friendship and curiosity. They thrived off each other at times, and connected in bizarre ways that left me thoroughly interested in how they’d play out together. Those relationships, the twisted-weird-lovely relationships throughout the book, felt human, and riveting as they tangled.
They did eventually explain what was wrong with Charlie but not in any great detail. Some of the plot points are told in rather muffled ways, through bits of dialogue or smoothed-down explanation rather than action. In some ways, it is a book more reliant on telling than showing, but because of Tori’s constant introspection, it works.
That’s one primary aspect of this book: it’s emotional and pulse-pounding and refreshingly dark but it’s precisely that alternation between matter-of-fact and stream-of-consciousness that makes it alive. It alternates between plainly relatable and different enough to be breathtaking. It’s sinister, always hovering on the edge of ambiguous. Everything in the book happens so quickly and yet the pacing was just about perfect. It seems rather character-focused but the plot builds at the end. I would have liked to have seen a bit more about the execution of Solitaire, but I still found it alarming. The end was phenomenal.
It’s like Panic by Lauren Oliver – contemporary but pulse-pounding, dark and exciting – just with the edges smoothed out. Instead of relying on grit and firm details to tell the story like Oliver does, Oseman uses the synesthetic and absorbing mental processes of her main character. So it’s contemporary, but it doesn’t feel like it. Not in a frustrating way, but in a way that feels like there are so many layers that still need to be discovered.
The book does take place primarily in Britain, so as an American, several references went way over my head. However, the matter-of-fact way in which it’s presented makes it relatable, if not entirely understandable, just in terms of the Labour Party vs. Tories, A-levels, etc,.
There are a lot of simply great parts to this book that made me love it. I found it engrossing, and suspenseful. There are random moments thrown in there that just feel so realistic – perhaps because it’s written by a young author – and they’re shockingly perceptive. In fact, a girl in my grade started reading the first few pages because I had it next to me in class when I finished, and liked it so much that she took it home because she couldn’t put it down. It’s funny and dark and sad. It’s intense and muddled and strangely addictive. I enjoyed this one a lot.