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.
Then why are you telling us about him?
Initially I was quite intrigued by this book. I read quite a bit of contemporary YA and romance is nearly always a sub-plot. So when I spotted a book with the strapline ‘This is not a love story’, I was immediately drawn in.
The first couple of chapters were fine. The writing style is very easy to read and flows really well and the idea of a potentially subversive group in an elitist school like Higgs was really interesting. Tori was a gloomy introvert, but I thought maybe that involvement in this group might give her some passion or spark, or might reveal some character traits that would make her more of a three dimensional protagonist.
Spoiler alert - it doesn’t.
Victoria Spring is going right up there on my Protagonists I Love To Hate. She, Mara Dyer and the blonde bint from the Half Bad series should set up a club together or something.
In a way, the strapline of the book is right: this isn’t a love story. It’s a hate story. Tori hates everything. Just ... everything. She doesn’t like a single thing in the world. She just hates, and the overuse of the word ‘hate’ in this book is second only to the overuse of the word ‘smug’ in the Twilight series. And yet her hate has no passion behind it. It’s just a weary, bored sort of disgust. And it turns out that weary, bored disgust is really weary and boring to read about. Who knew?
As well as being hateful, she’s also deeply unpleasant. She speaks to people like they’re well beneath her contempt and at one particularly horrible moment, she (in her internal monologue) sneers at an anorexic girl for reading The Hunger Games.
I feel like I’m missing the whole point of the novel somehow, and if someone reads this and thinks, ‘No, you’ve got it all wrong, this point of the book is xyz’, then please leave a comment at the bottom! I did think at one point that Tori may have mental health issues - depression perhaps? Nothing is specifically mentioned, but her apathy would suggest so. But I didn’t really feel that her internal monologue had the feel of someone suffering with mental health issues (although I’m not an expert) - it sounded more like the spoilt ramblings of a judgey, spiteful little cow. At one point, she has a huge go at her mum for not ironing her school skirt. When her mum points out that she could iron her school skirt herself, she flounces off in a huff, like Kevin the Teenager.
Don’t get me wrong - I like snarky, mean protagonists. And characters don’t have to be fluffy and sparkly and heroic to get my vote, but I have to know what they’re passionate about. What they love. Even Patrick Bateman in American Psycho was better fleshed out than this girl. At least we knew what he loved doing (murdering people).
At one point she actually enthuses about the film Garden State, saying it’s one of her new favourite films, but just as I started to rub my hands together in anticipation of some actually character development, she turned around and said ‘Actually, I don’t think I like it after all.’ It was at this point that I rested my head on the table and started weeping.
Because Tori’s viewpoint is so self-centred, we don’t really find out much about the other characters in the book. They felt very two-dimensional and I didn’t really care who Solitaire ended up being. And when I found out, it turned out that Solitaire was pulling these pranks for a reason I couldn’t really get behind.
Lastly, I feel this book does teenagers such a disservice. It paints them either as vacuous idiots or as pretentious, miserable wankers, when in fact the vast majority of teenagers (and people in general) are neither. When I was sixteen, a friend and I caught the train up the coast to get involved in a series of demonstrations against the inhumane transportation of veal calves, while at the same time our peers were doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award, or babysitting younger siblings so their parents could work, or playing football, or volunteering, or reading books, or taking an interest in public affairs, or sitting around watching reruns of Friends with their mates. Jesus Christ, at seventeen years old Malala Yousafzai was winning the bloody Nobel Peace Prize! That is teenagers. That is humanity. And this book is representative of neither.
And obviously I’m not saying that all teenagers (or people) are always awesome, all the time. Everyone has bad days, or makes poor decisions, or just does something mean or spiteful for no reason, but the balance of good and bad, our highs and lows, is what makes us interesting. The characters in this book were not interesting.
So one bit in the book did actually make me laugh, although I suspect not intentionally.
Fifteen minutes later, I push my way through a hedge to get into school because the main gates are locked. I get a big old scratch on my face and, upon inspection using my phone screen, I decide I quite like it.
It made me laugh because it reminded me of a time when I was about sixteen and was having a good old crying jag because the boy I fancied liked someone else. I remember feeling like nothing right ever happened to me and as I was crying I watched myself in my mirror, thinking how tragic I looked, like I was Cathy in Wuthering Heights or something, and I kid you not, I now look back and cringe at my wangsty behaviour.
Yeah. Not my cup of tea, this one. It could have been a really interesting treatise on youth culture, but it just turned out to be tedious and painful.