Solitaire by Alice Oseman

I picked up Solitaire by Alice Oseman as research for writing my own YA novel, Fandom, which deals with the online world. The back cover reads:

My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year 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.

Solitaire by Alice Oseman
Solitaire by Alice Oseman

The simple mention of blogging and a skim of the book’s contents were enough to encourage me to buy it to see how the modern world is narratively and stylistically incorporated into the book. I didn’t realise (despite the author’s name, the main character’s name and the feature of a book called Nick & Charlie on the back cover) that this book was in the Heartstopper world – I had watched the Netflix show and loved it. I also had purchased the first graphic novel to read but hadn’t gotten to it. It wasn’t until I began reading and recognised things like the school name Higgs that I started to twig the connection between Solitaire and Heartsopper. I looked it up and found out this book is set after Heartstopper Book 5 (which hadn’t been released yet but is out now). I didn’t mind the spoilers because I’d watched the show before reading any of the books anyway – but knowing this made me love this book more.

What I loved about Solitaire after discovering it’s about Charlie from Heartstopper’s sister Tori was that it gave us so much more character information and development for Tori. I loved Tori in the show and would’ve loved to see more of her. Still, I understand the focus is on Nick and Charlie’s story, so I really loved getting that extra dose of Tori in Solitaire. 

Solitaire’s central theme is Tori’s battle with teen angst that is compounded by a mental health breakdown of sorts and being sort of taunted by this elusive Solitaire figure. The novel builds her character as a very dark and gloomy character who looks at the world through a greyed lens. But she’s never unlikeable – or at least I never found her unlikeable – her darkness and gloominess aren’t ever to the point that you just want to slap her and tell her life is better. You empathise with her. You can also sense something else going on. We all know the feelings of otherness as a teen, which is the core of Tori’s darkness. She’s different, so she others herself so that she doesn’t have to pretend to be anyone else. 

The journey you go on with Tori has you, as the reader, always barracking for her. You don’t want her to change. You just want her to succeed in what she’s doing. Whether that’s discovering what or who Solitaire is or just getting through school.

You also get some extra insight into some of Heartstopper’s main characters, with Nick and Charlie popping up at different points…and another one I won’t spoil. I like the extra insight into the Spring family and its dynamics. Especially how they deal with the difficult things they’ve been through and are going through. 

I loved this book so much that I instantly jumped into reading all the Heartstopper books. I also bought the boxed set of Alice Oseman’s other books. So now I have Radio Silence, I Was Born For This, Loveless, Nick & Charlie and This Winter ready to read when I want.

Oseman nails the voice of her characters and engages the reader with well-thought-out character development and vivid descriptions of the setting. The stories she weaves are relatable to teens and those who have been teens. She weaved modern technology into the story of Solitaire well without doing it in a way that would age the book too much when technology moves on. Solitaire was, in fact, Alice’s first novel written when she was a teen herself, which explains why she can nail the teen voice and world so well. But it also doesn’t read like some youthful story only for those of that age group. The themes of friendship, finding yourself, and mental health are themes that many people can relate to, no matter their age. 

If you’re looking for an easy read that’s enjoyable and engaging but also deals with some very real topics, Solitaire is for you.