Including avoiding Solitaire altogether! Unless you want to take what seems like a lovable side-character from the Heartstopper series and completely ruin her for yourself like I did. That is the only thing I can say with certainty that this book accomplished, and I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. To Oseman’s credit, she was 17 when she wrote this, and it was her first published book. I know I wouldn’t want the novel I wrote at 17 distributed for everybody to read. Trust me, mine is far worse. Though I’m not even half the writer that Oseman is, so that only makes sense. Back to what I was saying, though, I wouldn’t have made it through this novel were it not for the convenience of having the audiobook on Spotify and being able to listen to it at 2.5x the speed. I kid you not, I started at normal speed and wound up there by the time I was done just to get it over and done with. Like so many others I’ve seen, I don’t know what this book is even intended to be going for.
The tagline is “this is not a love story,” except it kind of is. That being said, Victoria (the sister of Charlie from Heartstopper) is really not good to him (Michael) throughout the book. (Or anybody, for that matter) He takes it all in stride, though, because he’s almost the book’s male equivalent of a manic pixie dream girl. Maybe he just feels that way due to the fact that Victoria is basically Wednesday Addams, just the cringeworthy version. She hates everyone and everything, including the phone (“It takes away my freedom of non-speech”), and lets it be known often with snarky side-comments. Even her own friends and family don’t seem immune; those barbs go out in all directions. Then, later on in the book, depression casts a further gloom over her and I was caught between feeling for her the tiniest bit and thinking this still just seemed like garden-variety Victoria to me. Like, were I her friend, I probably wouldn’t be able to discern the difference between normal and depressed Victoria, seeing as she’s perpetually acting like somebody who hates life.
Speaking of hating life, when Oseman first published this, the book came with absolutely no content warnings, despite copious mentions of, among other things, self-harm and eating disorders. It’s since been re-released with some revisions (including content warnings), and I’d say that is a stellar idea. I didn’t know going in that roughly one fourth of the book was going to be Victoria getting a front seat to her brother’s spiraling (among other, more graphic, things). And had I not read Heartstopper Volume 4 prior to this, those parts would’ve wrecked me because we only get the glimpses Victoria does, none of which are positive. It’s dire, dark stuff and doesn’t feel handled well at all. Again, it’s a 17-year-old who wrote this, so not too big a surprise there. But anyway, in what we see, the parents seem completely oblivious to their own daughter’s depression, among other things. She is front-row for some traumatizing things, both with Charlie and at school, and yet the most they can muster is asking about how she’s doing, then refusing to break through her defensive snarky responses to get to the real answers. Then again, nobody really does, as her depression just sorta remains a loose end, just with “love” helping her sideline it enough to carry on for the time being. What the hell kind of message is that meant to send, by the way?
Onto the titular “Solitaire,” I’m at a loss for how the school itself (namely the administration) wasn’t more mobilized to stop a prank group that were even catching things, and students, on fire. Like, logistically, 17-year-old Oseman seems to have not adequately thought any part of the entire “Solitaire” sub-plot out. Even the news doesn’t cover when students are injured as a result of the group because, as Victoria guesses, they didn’t want to cast a shadow on the event it happened at? That’s… not how things work. Oh, and the reveal of the person behind the group, and their reason was… wow. Oseman, I assume, was going for “deep” with that, but instead all she managed to elicit from me was an eyeroll and an “oh my god.” Throughout the book, I hoped it wasn’t heading where she was hinting at. Alas, I was not so lucky.
To wrap up, I say only read this if you’ve exhausted all of Oseman’s other works and want to see where it all began out of morbid curiosity. Definitely don’t read it before Heartstopper Volume 4. If you do, read that pronto as a balm for the wounds this is sure to give you (if you’re at all a Heartstopper fan). And I guess that’s the last I have to say about Solitaire.
P.S. I tried so hard to snag a copy of Chainsaw Man Volume 1 to make my Cannonball book instead, but apparently the first volume is the toughest to find. Target doesn’t even stock it online, Books-a-Million had none in stores and a 2-4 week ship time, Barnes & Noble had none in stores and an estimated ship time of September 2nd, Walmart was charging double the usual retail (probably a reseller on their marketplace), and our local comic stores don’t sell manga (man, I miss Vault of Midnight in Detroit). I had to find a copy on Mercari, and that’ll be a little while, so too late to make it my Cannonball book.