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Solitaire is a laugh-out-loud YA novel with a 16-year-old narrator, Tori Spring, an English teen with strong depressive tendencies. Her acerbic comments about her classmates and modern culture are often extremely funny, but they build up to show her increasing isolation. Her laptop is her closest friend and she writes her own blog because that provides her with her most meaningful interactions. She doesn't feel normal and she is out of synch with the world. She has a very low opinion of most people. Her younger brother Charlie is a wonderful person but he has a lot of problems with anxiety and depression, and we eventually find out that Tori discovered him the previous year after he tried to hurt himself. Tori is worried that he will try to do it again. Charlie is gay and has a boyfriend, Nick, who provides some help, which is good since Tori is not always in a great position to look after her brother. She is very serious and sometimes makes other people feel awkward by her self-deprecating comments. She is smart but not motivated.
Although she does not like any boys romantically, because of her isolation and cynicism, she is pursued by Michael Holden, who has just started at her school. He is also awkward and tries too hard to be her friend, so their interactions are often difficult. There's another boy, Lucas, who has also just started at her school. She used to be best friends with him when they were 11, so and he seems to want to impress her too. Tori isn't much used to talking to boys who might be interested in her, and it isn't easy for her. But her best female friend Becky is increasingly critical of her and they don't spend much time together, so Tori is getting more drawn to the possibilities of romance.
The main drama in the story comes from a secret organization that has started to create disruptions at school. They start out funny, like taking over the computers at school assembly and playing a video that makes the headmaster look stupid or taking away all the clocks in the school and replacing them with pieces of paper saying Tempus Fugit! Then they start to get more dangerous. There is a blog called Solitaire that takes responsibility for the actions; it makes rather mysterious pronouncements about what their goals are. Tori wonders who is behind Solitaire, and is disturbed when Michael points out that the Solitaire actions seem to be particularly aimed at her. So she starts to investigate.
Remarkably, Solitaire is the first novel of a teenage writer, now twenty, but first published in the UK in 2014. It's a dark story, combining a lot of talk about death and depression with a slice of modern digital culture, British TV and great literature. It has not only humor and social commentary, but quite a few moments that are genuinely touching.
The audiobook performance by Jayne Entwistle was recorded especially for the US, and is 9.5 hours, (while the British version which is 7.25 hours, a surprisingly large difference). Entwistle has a British accent, which helps with authenticity. She has a strong talent for bringing out the different emotions of Tori, as well as bringing life to the other characters.
Link: Alice Osemann website.
© 2015 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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