Solitaire by Alice Oseman (HarperCollins Children's, 31 July 2014)
SOLITAIRE is a bit of a strange one. It's the only book I've ever read which has actually come close to depicting what my life felt like as a teenager, but I'm not 100% sure whether this necessarily makes it a good book. I think, for now, I'm going to say that yes, it sort of does.
Tori Spring is sixteen. She goes to Higgs Grammar School. She blogs. Her life is completely uninspiring. That is until, all in the same day, she meets an eccentric boy called Michael, stumbles upon a mysterious blog called Solitaire, and reunites with her childhood best friend, Lucas. Solitaire begins to play pranks on the school, which grow bigger and gradually more out of hand. The strange thing is, all the things that Solitaire does seem to hold special meaning for Tori alone. With Michael's help, Tori might just discover the truth behind Solitaire.
As I was reading this book, I kept thinking that I probably used to be Tori at some point in my life, and I'm really glad I've stopped being Tori, because being Tori is no fun, and it's also no fun reading about being Tori, either. Tori doesn't care about anything. She lives in this monotonous fog of sadness. She goes to school. She hates everyone there. She doesn't talk to people. She goes home. She spends the rest of her time on the Internet, on her blog. She stays awake at night. She feels sad. She feels nothing.
So much of this book was just. That. That repetitive, dull rhythm of Tori's life. This whole book was shrouded in Tori's fog, and it made it incredibly hard to care about anything that was going on, because Tori acted like she didn't care. I know Tori. I know her because I was her, at some point. And to read about in a YA book, to have that boring, sad life laid bare on the page, is really, really strange. On the one hand, I feel like it's a good thing that this book is about how some teenagers, a lot of teenagers, feel sad and have their lives clouded by sadness at some point during their teenage years, and that's okay. It's okay to be sad. But on the other hand, it doesn't exactly make thrilling book material. I was bored but also, strangely, not bored. I just felt like I was being asked to relive 2006 to 2010 all over again, those years when I was Tori.
I wanted to hate Tori, but I couldn't. She was self-absorbed and unsympathetic, but that's very real and relatable. We can't deny that we're probably all like that sometimes.
Even when Tori finally started to care about things, I found it difficult to start with her. Nothing much happens, and the climax is oddly anti-climactic. I wasn't hugely into the whole Solitaire mystery and I guessed early on who was behind it all. I didn't care for Michael, Tori's new friend and something of a love interest. He's the bright light in what is otherwise a pretty depressing book, but he just didn't interest me. I did like some of the side characters, particularly Charlie, Tori's brother, and Becky, Tori's best friend. Becky, especially, was awesome in surprising ways, and Tori and Becky's crumbling friendship was one of the few things that really moved me in this book. And Charlie, well. Charlie's gay. He has a boyfriend, Nick. He also has an eating disorder and he self-harms. I liked all of that. I liked that he and Nick seemed so in love, but that doesn't solve any of Charlie's problems.
I found this book well-written – the prose was beautiful at times – and utterly authentic. It's really different to all the other YA contemporaries out there. But I just can't figure out how I really feel about it. For all the seemingly negative things I've said about it, I believe it's a good book. It's true to life and has important things to say, and I wonder how differently I would have felt about this book if I'd read it back when I was actually Tori Spring.