Author: Alice Oseman
Length: 9.5 hours
Narrator: Jayne Entwistle
Original Publication Date: 2014
Genre(s): Young adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Tori Spring is a cynic—she hates school, people, and clichés. The only things she likes to do is blog, sleep, and watch films. She thinks there’s nobody like her, and that nobody likes her in general. So when a boy named Michael Holden shows up at school and wants nothing more than to be her friend, Tori just can’t comprehend why. At the same time, her childhood friend Lucas Ryan shows up at school, too, though he’s so awkward it’s hard to really decipher if he wants to be her friend now, as well. And then there’s Solitaire, the mysterious blog that’s popped up and has been pranking Tori’s school in strange, sometimes funny—sometimes not funny—ways. Tori didn’t expect any of this to happen. Honestly, she’d rather be in bed…but somehow gets pulled into a whirlwind of events she never saw coming.
Back when I was addicted to tumblr, I somehow wound up following Oseman. Eventually I noticed that she was writing and publishing a book. Since then, Solitaire has been on my TBR, untouched. To be honest, I forgot about the book shortly after it was published. Just recently I happened upon it in audiobook format, just as I was out of audiobooks to listen to at work. What a coincidence! I peeked at the Goodreads reviews and regretted it immediately—I noticed people either loved it or hated it. And after listening to the book in its entirety, I can say that it’s true: I think people will either love it or hate it, and it entirely depends on the type of person you are, or the type of teenager you were.
Told in first-person POV, the story follows Tori as the mysterious blog Solitaire comes into life at her school. Other than that very general plot description, I can say no more without really ruining the book. It’s somewhat of a mystery—who is behind Solitaire?—but more than that, it’s just a plain narrative. It’s less plot, more character development.
Tori has a chaotic family: a much younger brother who is joyful and happy and unassuming of the world around him, a slightly younger brother named Charlie who has both OCD and depression, an emotionless mother who barely looks up from what she’s doing to notice anybody or anything, and a father who loves literature and pushes it on Tori but Tori hates reading. Truly, the scenes with her family are the most interesting, specifically those featuring Charlie and his boyfriend, Nick. Most people reading Solitaire had already been fans of the boys—see Heartstopper—but not me. I am now, though! Poor Charlie almost steals the spotlight from Tori, it seems. You could tell how much Oseman cared about this character. All the characters seemed pretty flushed out, in fact. I will admit, though, you only see the parents from the cynical teenager’s POV, and no, there is no realization at the end of the book where she reflects and grows and shares her devotion to her parents or anything like that… It’s just an honest look at how teens see their parents.
Anyway. The characters are the best part about this book. The plot was alright—a bit slow at times, but the Solitaire hijinks kept it moving right along. The book being called Solitaire and all, you’d think that was the focal point of the story, but actually, I’d say the budding friendship between Tori and Michael is more what the story is about, as well as mental illness—both in Charlie and in Tori—and how easy it is to not recognize how depressed you (or someone we care about) might be. The tagline for the book reads, “This is not a love story,” but I’m not sure if that’s true or not. Perhaps that’s just Tori’s cynicism shining through, being so adamant not to be a cliché. I don’t know. I don’t know if Tori is in love at the end of the book, but I do know she grows to care very deeply about a person, and that’s a kind of love in my eyes.
This book is not for everyone. I related to the sardonic Tori in a lot of ways, both as a teenager and as an adult in her twenties. Is that bad? That’s probably bad. But I understood her, and that’s why I liked this book. I also liked the characters and the progression of the story. What I did not like was the ending—it seemed ridiculously unlikely and a bit out of place. It was supposed to be this big ending but instead felt…wrong. I also thought there should have been a little more emotion to that ending, but instead I didn’t get that big feeling I should have gotten.
I liked this book, but I guarantee many others will not, so tread lightly, friends. And keep in mind this book was written by a teenager. I’m excited to read Oseman’s newer novels, but I can say I did enjoy Solitaire more than I thought I would. It’s certainly a unique story and would make a fantastic cult classic brit film…kind of like Submarine, yes? I think so.
–“I hate the phone. It is the worst invention in the history of the world. because if you don’t talk nothing happens. You cant get by with simply listening and nodding your head in all the right places. You have to talk. You have no option. It takes away my freedom of non-speech.”
–“I don’t think my mum likes me very much. That doesn’t really matter because I don’t really like her either.”
–“Just because someone smiles doesn’t mean they are happy.”