Wednesday 30 July 2014

Reviewed by Arianne: Solitaire by Alice Oseman.

Product details:
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's.
Paperback, 400 pages.
Release date: July 31st 2014.
Rating: 2½ out of 5.
Ages: 13+
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Arianne.

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.

Before I read this book, I was in a reading slump. When other books failed to draw me in, Solitaire – swathed in hype long before release – seemed like the perfect book with which to break the cycle. And in a way, it did. It made me realize that good books still exist – it’s just a pity that Solitaire isn’t actually one of them.

Let me explain. You know when you read a book that’s almost universally loved, and it just doesn’t click with you? The feeling of guilt that crashes down as you wonder what you’ve missed, if somehow a chapter got left out of the edition you were reading, a chapter that would have changed your opinion of the story entirely? All of those things happened to me while reading Solitaire. I didn’t want them to, but I just can’t ignore the fact that I really did not like this book.

If you’ve read my reviews in the past, you’ll know that I’m an overwhelmingly positive rater – I always try to be generous with stars because no matter what I think of a book, I know it was a labour of love for the author. Someone somewhere poured months, maybe even years, of their life into this project and, for me, that in itself deserves a handful of stars. I don’t like writing negative reviews, but I have to write honest ones.

Tori Spring is a cynical Sixth Former whose life motto seems to be one of general contempt towards the world and everything in it. She’s brutally pessimistic, scornful and cruel. I appreciate the importance of having unlikeable heroines, but Tori’s not just unlikeable, she’s unbearable. I tried to understand her, I really did. School peers who are just blind clones of each other? We’ve all had them. Family strife? We’ve all been there. People who are just plain idiotic and need a good slap? We’ve all met one or two. These things, I could understand – I could even understand disliking these things. But Tori takes her hatred of everyone and everything to a whole other level. This book tries so hard not to be cool, to not care, when really it’s the story of someone desperate to be popular, of a girl who ignores her own problems and who embodies the ‘play-pretend teenage apathy’ stereotype. Every character in this book is labelled and categorised. They are either too cool to care or incapable of controlling themselves – they are not complex or even memorable. Attempts to force them into the reader’s sympathy with tragic backstory and inane conversation fail grow particularly tiresome. However, in this review, I’m going to do the one thing that Tori never does, and that’s look on the bright side.

Alice Oseman is a teenage author, and as a teenage reader, I automatically go out of my way to support young authors in any way I can. I think it’s fantastic that agents and publishers are willing to take a gamble on YA writers who truly know what it’s like to be a modern teenager. In fact, the way Oseman describes what it means to be a teen in today’s world is one of the saving graces of the book. She details teen life in ways I haven’t seen in other contemporaries on the shelf. Exploration of tough issues like mental health, eating disorders and depression is particularly prominent and it’s something I’d love to see more of in YA.

Oseman’s writing style is solid and reliable, and I have no doubt she’ll go far in in the UKYA scene. It’s peppered with teen and pop culture references, which was fabulous - at first. I think it was supposed to make the dialogue and narrative more interesting but if I’m honest, it started to drag after a couple of chapters. I have no problem with references to movies and TV shows, and I particularly liked that fandom got a mention or forty, but it’s overdone. Not every teenager’s existence is defined by brands, and even when Tori ties to distance herself from it, all we get is a wannabe hipster narrator instead. Like many other aspects of the book, this element constantly swings between two extremes. On the upside, Michael Holden – the only character I really liked – brought enough entertainment to the tale that I could overlook the narration and focus on the story itself. The much publicised ‘realism’ of the book is somewhat undermined by the melodramatic and distracting introduction of a ‘mysterious’ and ‘secret’ cyber society who cause insult and injury by playing dangerous pranks around Tori’s school but there had to be some kind of plot in there somewhere.

I stuck with Solitaire because I was hoping for some magnificent twist to make it all worthwhile – and also because I was still wondering if I was actually reading the book I’d seen nothing but praise for in recent weeks – and it just didn’t happen. I now understand why the blurb, which made me want read the book in the first place, is so scarce on the detail; because Solitaire has a lot of potential, but that’s probably the best thing about it. I also got the sense that it will date very quickly, what with the social media undercurrent and all the name-dropping, so it lacks any sense of timelessness. Most importantly, it fails to show that teenagers can be positive and constructive and self-aware as well as intellectual and sarcastic and biting, so it’s not a book I’ll be eagerly recommending to YA readers or otherwise.

In short: Solitaire helped me get out of a reading slump in that it made me want to read another – better – book as soon as I’d finished. I’m not saying others won’t enjoy it, but with such an eviscerating main character, harsh narration and a disappointing overall standard of execution, it really wasn’t for me.


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