Review and Art by: Neha N., Grade 9
Solitaire, author Alice Oseman’s debut novel, narrates the story of English teenager Victoria Annabel Spring as she navigates the complications of high school and the relationships that she has with those around her. Over the course of the book, the reader gets to know and love Tori’s pessimism and sarcasm, as well as watch her slowly start to open up to more people in her life and acknowledge her struggles.
We, as readers, first meet Tori in her school’s common room as she returns to Harvey Greene Grammar School for Girls after winter break, in conversation with her friend group, which she refers to as “our lot”. “Our lot” is made up of Tori’s only true friend at the time, Becky, as well as several other girls that Tori doesn’t feel close with. As the book commences, a few more people join “our lot”, such as one of Tori’s old friends from primary school, Lucas Ryan, and a new student at Harvey Greene, Michael Holden, resulting in Tori being surrounded by more people than ever before. As if the stress of her heavy schoolwork and these new people weren’t enough, a mysterious organization called “Solitaire” starts to play pranks at Harvey Greene- which seem to be harmless and joking at first, but then evolve into bigger and bigger stunts that leave several injured. Tori cannot bear the thought of nobody around her caring about these dangerous pranks, so she designates herself the responsibility of catching the pranksters and stopping them once and for all, accompanied by Michael, who Tori begins to grow closer to and open up to as the book progresses.
Throughout this novel, Alice Oseman does an excellent job of illustrating Tori’s relationships with her friends and family, making sure to give the readers Tori’s opinions on the people in her life and Solitaire’s pranks. Each time a major event happens, the reader can see a reaction from Tori, and understand her actions, but sometimes the book fails to address why exactly Tori had that reaction in the first place. Although it is easy to see how Tori feels about her surroundings, the reader is occasionally left wondering why exactly her reaction was so passionate, or why the particular act was so triggering to Tori.
Another highlight of Oseman’s writing style is her unique worldbuilding. The reader gets an inside perspective of the social norms and societal expectations within Harvey Greene Grammar School and even the environment of Tori’s own home is carefully crafted so that even Tori’s daily interactions with her parents and brothers are interesting and detailed. I appreciate the way Oseman illustrates Tori’s surroundings through not physical description alone, but also through other characters' reactions to the environments. These descriptions often give the illusion that Tori is not the only main character in the story, even though the entire novel is from her point of view, providing the reader with a way to visualize the other characters’ perspectives without making the novel confusing.
The last aspect of this book that I applaud the most is the growth that Tori goes through. Throughout the entire novel, Tori goes through rough patches where she severely disappoints herself and loses faith, but at the end, she begins to start trusting others to listen to her struggles and help her get through them. I appreciate how Tori’s problems weren’t necessarily 100% solved by the end, but the reader could still tell that she was on the right path, making the ending more realistic than other books where the problem is completely solved even if it is unrealistic. I think that the combination of the suspenseful and mysterious plot coupled with Tori’s personality and growth with the progression of the novel makes it one I’d recommend, once the reader is willing to accept that they won’t really get to know Tori as deeply as they might wish to.