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Book Review

Right at the depth of Tori Spring’s already sad and depressed school life, someone (or someones) behind a blog called Solitaire starts causing havoc. And she might be the only one able to fix things.

Plot Summary

Sixteen-year-old Tori Spring doesn’t like much about her sad and depressed school life. In fact, she doesn’t like much about her sad and depressed self either.

It’s not that she’s incapable of succeeding or even excelling. She’s bright. She’s perceptive. She’s even attractive, if that matters. But she just doesn’t care. About anything.

Well, let me walk that back. She cares about a few things.

Though her parents are only good for providing a bed and a house, Tori’s little 7-year-old brother, Oliver, is a joy. And her 15-year-old brother Charlie is, well, very kind and lovable. He has, however, gone through a lot of mental health issues. He’s attempted suicide in the past and can crumble into self-harm if things take even a slight turn. He suffers from an eating disorder, too.

Tori also thinks the world of her best friend, Becky. And that’s despite the fact that they don’t have a lot in common. Purple-haired Becky is outgoing, popular, and a girl who regularly warms up to one love interest or another (if you know what I mean). At the same time, Tori is mousey-haired and distressingly invisible to pretty much everybody.

On the whole, life—in and out of school—just kinda stinks.

One morning, however, Tori’s generally unworthy-of-getting-up-out-of-bed-for life takes an unexpected turn. A strange Post-it note trail leads from her locker to an empty computer room at school. And Tori is introduced to an anonymous blog called Solitaire. Soon after, whoever’s behind this blog starts trafficking in small-scale pranks that could get dangerous.

And for some reason, Tori always ends up in the middle of it all.

Oh, and that’s not everything. An old friend named Lucas has recently transferred into school. And though he seems to want to reconnect, Tori has changed. Rekindling awkward childhood friendships is definitely not her thing.

Tori has also met another transfer named Michael Holden, an oddball she finds compellingly interesting. And this strange guy is not only drawn to Tori like a moth to a lightbulb, but he wants to dive into this Solitaire mystery with her.

Sigh. Looks like this term is going to be an unexpected challenge.

Christian Beliefs

Tori states that she doesn’t believe in God or Hell. “Whatever happens in hell can’t be much worse than what happens here,” she declares.

Someone leaves “thought for the day” questions on Tori’s personal blog. One of them asks: “Why do people believe in God?”

Tori also meets someone who spreads his arms in greeting “as if he’s the Second Coming of Christ.”

Other Belief Systems

The biggest focus in this book is on mental health. And most of the teens we encounter struggle with some sort of emotional or mental issue. While mental health issues certainly don’t count as a “belief system,” they can deeply impact what they believe about the world around them.

Depression is a big issue for many of them. And Tori is very depressed. Early on, she barely cares about anything—but she does muster a bit of jealousy focused on Becky, for being “everything she wishes she was: Confident. Outgoing. Happy.”

Later in the story, however, social media becomes a belief system of sorts that causes harm. Teens believe what they read as if it was the gospel truth, and they follow it blindly. It drives its growing audience of teens to commit mob-like violence and get cheeringly excited over destruction. However, those actions turn Tori in the opposite direction. “This is why you never let your feelings control your behavior,” Tori declares.

Authority Roles

Tori’s parents are pretty much uninvolved. Her dad recommends books for her to read, but she becomes almost obstinately opposed to reading. And Tori says this about her mom: “I don’t think my mum likes me very much. That doesn’t matter, because I don’t really like her either.”

There is one adult who steps up positively. A teacher named Mr. Kent is pranked and badmouthed by the kids. But he staidly tries to do his job well. He talks to Tori about her written essays, exploring her thoughts, talking of her strengths and trying to encourage her to apply herself. “Nothing’s going to change until you decide you want it to change,” he tells her. But his words don’t seem to have much impact.

There is a sense, though, that underneath, Tori understands that things are going wrong around her. And she eventually steps up to do what’s right for herself and others. Becky and Michael are a part of that positive camp as well. After having fallouts with Tori, they both step up to aid her in her time of need.

Profanity & Violence

Foul language is rife in this teen story with many uses of f- and s-words, and exclamations of the words “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “crap,” “tw-t,” and crude misuses of God’s and Jesus’ names.

There are several parties where beer and alcohol flow freely among the 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds. Several get drunk (including Tori).

The Solitaire “pranks” start small, with clocks being stolen and stray cats being set loose in the school. But those antics quickly escalate in harmful ways. A guy is named for bullying a gay kid, for instance, and a crowd of drunken teens are spurred to grab, beat and kick that boy in a mob-like, cheering frenzy. Fireworks are set off in the midst of a concert crowd. People are set on fire and burned. School property is set on fire. And eventually Tori’s entire school is set aflame. (She finds herself on the burning school’s rooftop, considering suicide.)

Speaking of suicide, we’re told that Charlie once attempted it. And part of Tori’s own depression is due to her guilt over not spotting his dark symptoms. Charlie self-harms once more at a later date. And while the book doesn’t describe what he does, it’s implied that he cut his arms or wrists.

Several people are punched in the face. People talk about Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide.

Sexual Content

While all that above-mentioned drinking is going on, the teens are also making out and petting heavily, too. Those sexual situations are not fully described, but Tori does note, for instance, that one male and female couple have “basically merged into one being.” Becky tends to fall into that category a few times and mentions having sex with a boy before they later break up.

The book also fully embraces all manner of teen sexual expression. We’re told that Tori’s brother, Charlie, is gay. His lover is a guy Tori’s age who’s bisexual. And Michael states that he is “not too fussy about gender.”

People discuss the sexual tension between Harry Potter and Malfoy, along with other lightly sexual topics. Michael and Tori kiss.

Discussion Topics


Additional Comments

This very popular 2023 young-adult novel is a rewrite and rerelease of author Alice Oseman’s original British novel published in 2015. Adjustments were made to more warmly accept alternate teen sexuality and remove parental involvement in this version. Alcohol-laced parties and drunkenness are also a big part of the story equation.

On a potentially more positive note, Solitaire could give readers insights into teens struggling with deep depression and feelings of self-harm. It declares that making choices based solely on emotion, either alone or in a group, can be potentially dangerous and destructive. And it warningly illustrates that ubiquitous teen involvement with social media isn’t always a good thing.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose