Book Review: Solitaire by Alice Oseman

Tori Spring enjoys blogging and sleeping… and that’s pretty much all she enjoys these days. Tori, a sixteen-year-old Year 12 student, is a chronic pessimist with few friends and little to no sources of happiness.

But when she follows a trail of Post-It notes to the computer lab, where she meets the mysteriously eccentric Michael Holden, she receives a message from a group called Solitaire that plots to take over the school.

Throughout the story, we follow Tori as she makes and breaks her friendships, struggles with her mental health, balances her schoolwork, learns to trust other people, and finds the motivation to get out of bed every morning. On top of everything going on in Tori’s life, she continually tries to be the best sister she can be to her brothers, Charlie and Oliver.

I absolutely loved this book, though it was a lot darker than many books I’ve enjoyed in the past. Nevertheless, I may go so far as to call Solitaire my favorite book as of now. Alice Oseman crafts a haunting, realistic, beautiful story in the mind of an imperfect main character. As usual, Alice Oseman includes lots of LGBTQ+ representation in Solitaire as well as in her other novels, which I strongly recommend as well!

Solitaire also introduces the characters Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson, who appear in the Netflix series Heartstopper. However, Solitaire may not be enjoyable for fans of Heartstopper, as it is much deeper and darker and does not work out to be a perfect happy ending. Solitaire is not a love story, the main conflict takes place inside Tori as she tries to figure herself out.

I loved that this book wasn’t like what I usually read—nothing like the cliche love story with nice characters that have a happy ending. I liked that Tori had good days and bad days, and I enjoyed diving into her introspective thoughts. I found Solitaire to be much more realistic to life, and I truly enjoyed this amazing book.

Happy reading!

-Lam T.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is a nonfiction novel that takes readers through the author’s journey of creating his own law firm and and defending his clients. Stevenson works with racial minorities, disabled people, women, and children who have been wrongfully convicted or treated cruelly in prisons. The novel mainly revolves around the case of Walter McMillian- an innocent black man who was blamed for the murder of a teenage girl named Ronda Morrison. However, the author still shares dozens of other cases that involve different groups of people.

Personally, I found this novel very eye-opening, as it informed me of the situations involving our country’s justice system and current prison conditions. It caused me to rethink the conditions in which someone should receive a capital punishment, as well as whether or not the death penalty is considered inhumane. I was also impressed by the several themes in the novel that could be applied to not only my own life, but society as a whole. For example: It shouldn’t be okay to judge someone without considering the situation they are currently in, or what they have been through in the past.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about criminal justice and law. Although there are some legal terms that require extra research to understand the meaning of, the overall plot is very easy to comprehend, especially with the clear, detailed descriptions of each case.

-Aysha H.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Jane Anonymous: A Novel by Laurie Faria Stolarz

I have to say after reading this book I felt sad yet relieved. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I truly loved every bit of detail and description that was carefully poured into each and every chapter. It felt as if I was a part of the story myself. The feeling of betrayal of being unheard of by many others. Those who you thought you could trust. Imagine you’re being secretly watched for years and had no clue. That whatever evil has been following you creeps up behind you without any realization. Until it’s too late. It has you.

In this book we follow a teenage girl who’s wrapping up high-school with a job at her local jewelry store. She works from early morning to night. The jewelry store she works at is located near a dark forest with the surveillance cameras out of service. One night as Jane is closing the store getting ready to leave a man appears at the door. Begging for a minute. He claimed that all he needed was to buy a ring for his wife’s anniversary. Jane felt bad and unlocked the door. Little did she know this would be her biggest regret.

The man is dressed nicely. Hair styled back. His appearance charming enough to fool those around him. Just as the man chose a ring for his “wife” Jane offers him a small bag to put it in. She turns her back. The man jumps over the counter grabbing and pulling onto Jane. He forces a bag over head and drags her out of the shop effortlessly. He then shoves her into his trunk. Jane is screaming hysterically. No one can hear her. She dropped her phone in the store. The man tied the sack tight enough for her screams to be muffled. The trunk door locks. The engine is engaged. and the car zooms off into the distance. Into a land of insanity.

Jane’s phone is blowing up. Her mother and father are worried. Her best friend is calling her now worried. They were supposed to meet later. Jane never showed up. The shop is empty and everyone knows something is off. With anxiety overflowing the parents they inform the cops. A search is sent out only to find no trace of Jane.

Throughout the 6-7 months with her kidnapper Jane seems to believe she isn’t the first. She thinks she isn’t alone. But even at desperate times your thoughts may trick you. Will Jane make it out alive in one piece? Or does she seem to grow towards her kidnapper? Does she remember who she is after all this time? I have to say the ending will have you rethinking everything. You must be aware after reading you should always check your back. You never know when it’ll be your time.

-Hannah W.

Jane Anonymous by Laurie Faria Stolarz is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies is one of many novels written by Julia Alvarez. Although it’s not as well known, the book serves as an impactful demonstration of woman empowerment and fighting for justice in an unjust government. All of the characters have their own unique personalities, a connection between fiction and history.

The novel is a work of historical fiction, therefore most of the characters are actually real people. Taking place in the 1960s, three sisters have been reported dead at the bottom of a cliff. The fourth sister, Dedé Mirabal, lives to tell the tale of the three heroic activists. Based on Dedé’s story, the sisters who passed were the primary opponents of General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, a dictator of the Dominican Republic at the time. Throughout the novel, the perspectives of all four Mirabal sisters are portrayed as they grow older. From secret crushes to stashing guns in their own homes, the sisters depict the horrors of living under Trujillo’s oppressive regime, but also their interpersonal conflicts with the people they love.

There are multiple themes within this novel, such as racial, gender, and economic injustices, political conflicts, and finding courage in the face of adversity. As a woman myself, it’s always fascinating to see literature with underlying tones of a fight for gender equity and equality. Considering that the books I’ve read throughout my entire life were primarily written by male authors, this was definitely a breath of fresh air. It’s even more inspiring when readers realize that this novel is a work of historical fiction, that these characters have actually faced similar abhorrent situations in their lives. I applaud Julia Alvarez for being able to turn a book filled with many heavy themes and subjects, into a novel that’s light and heartfelt for young adult readers.

There’s a perfect balance between the plot and various themes of the novel, therefore the content is not too heavy for readers to understand. The only thing the book truly lacks would be plot twists and events that would drag the reader into the novel itself. Nonetheless, I highly recommend others to read this book, especially if they’re interested in historical political conflicts or female activism.

-Natasha P.

In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Supper Club by Lara Williams

Supper Club by Lara Williams is a poignant, perceptive, and savagely funny novel about the disastrous realities of growing up in a modern world.

The book centers around a young British girl named Roberta- following her through various sexual, romantic, and societal exploits from her college days to her thirties. In the opening chapters, we experience Roberta’s deep dissatisfaction in college, and her all-encompassing depression at her social life. She is desperate to connect with her peers- to truly become like the effervescent social butterflies she sees in sitcoms on the television. Unable to do so, she begins cooking. What begins as a hobby soon spirals into an obsession. Roberta falls even deeper into depression- she is horrified by her body, and spends her days by herself, alone in her dorm, or working at her job in a small publishing company. Soon, she meets an intern named Stevie- the kind of woman Roberta would give everything to be like. They become very close friends, even moving in together- and then, one night, Roberta comes up with a marvelous and terrible idea: the idea of a Supper Club.

The club originally begins with the goal of letting women eat- letting them take up space, letting them exist– but soon, the women in the club are trashing stores and getting unbelievably high on various drugs. Amid this beautiful chaos, Roberta struggles to find meaning- struggling with the various men in her life, struggling with her family, struggling with herself. She pushes against the boundaries that hold her without quite knowing how to. She feels anxious and inadequate- yet, she feels beautiful and free.

That is the dichotomy that truly makes this a timeless book- uncertainty combines with melancholy combines with explosive ecstasy to truly make the novel whole. That’s also something I enjoyed about Roberta. She’s not perfect. She’s not even close. She is desperate and sad and pathetic and hopeful and strong all at once. She isn’t a perfect protagonist- but she is real. And that is the true thesis of Supper Club– about how society shrinks women and makes them fake- makes them ghosts. It’s about reclaiming space- reclaiming the true meaning of being a woman, with all its good and bad and ugly. It’s about reclaiming hope.

This book contains mature themes, such as self-harm and sexual violence, that may not be suitable for some readers.

-Vaidehi B.

The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

The novel The Cousins is written by Karen M. McManus, whose prior works are One of Us is Lying and Two Can Keep A Secret, to name a few.

It begins with the introductions of our main characters, Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story, the grandchildren of the infamous Abraham and Mildred Story- despite the fact that they’ve never met them before, after their parents were disinherited. However, when they receive an invitation to work at her island resort over the summer, refusing is unfathomable, a chance to get back into her good graces. But when they arrive at the island, as stranger and stranger things happen, Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah realize that all is not what it seems. The Story family has a dark past, and the cousins will need to uncover them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I expected, since I enjoyed McManus’ previous books. From the eerie mantra repeated throughout this novel, “Family first, always,” to the questions and plot twists, The Cousins continues to keep you wondering until the final reveal.

Kelsie W.

The Cousins by Karen M. McManus is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

It was a cute, riveting, and young love story. It captured the maturity of literature and poetry but was also able to include light-hearted contented and funny references to the well-known DC character Batman. I liked how the book was relatable but the dream that any teen girl would have about a brooding good-looking boy. I smiled a lot because it had the classic trope where the mysterious standoffish boy would end up being soft for the nerdy shy girl. It had all the elements that a cheesy romance novel would have too. Moved into a new town, a new girl at a new school, making new friends, etc. The author was able to bring in much humor and seriousness in such a relatable and casual way that I thought was interesting.

I hope to find similar novels that have a similar style that are well written and as captivating as this one was. So if you’re looking for a sweet, giddy read this is the book you should check out next. It is great. It is great. It is great. (You’ll get the reference if you read the book haha).

-Coralie D.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum is available for checkout at the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally

breatheanniebreathe_mirandakenneallyBreathe, Annie, Breathe, by Miranda Kenneally, is about 18 year old Annie running a marathon in memory of her late boyfriend. Even though Annie hates running, she wants to run the marathon that her boyfriend, Kyle, was training to run in. It’s the end of Annie’s senior year, and she is trying to move on from Kyle. But when Annie meets Jeremiah, it’s harder than she could ever imagine.

Jeremiah is Annie’s coach’s younger brother. He is a junior at the college that Annie is going to be attending at the fall, and loves running as much as his brother. Annie is scared to become more than friends with Jeremiah. Can Annie let Kyle go while training for the marathon? Or will she be stuck in the past?

I personally loved this book. I saw Miranda Kenneally’s newest book in a bookstore, and so I decided to try to find it in the library. Instead, I found Breathe, Annie, Breathe and another Kenneally book, Jesse’s Girl, and I fell in love with both. I feel that this was a really realistic book, and I fell in love with it.What I also love about Miranda Kenneally is that some of the characters stay the same, but the plot isn’t. For instance, the football coach in Breathe, Annie, Breathe, is the main character’s brother’s girlfriend in Jesse’s Girl.

I recommend Breathe, Annie, Breathe to anyone who has read Miranda Kenneally’s other books, is a Sarah Dessen fan, or is just looking for a good realistic read. This book isn’t mature for younger audiences.

-Rebecca V.

Breathe, Annie, Breath is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Full Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Full-Ride by Margaret Peterson Haddix was a great book. Becca Jones, the main character, really represented normal high school students. She is stressing out over GPAs, SATs, scholarships, and classes for college, along with the rest of her friends.

Becca isn’t telling the truth to everyone. Her father is in jail, and her mother’s lawyer tells Becca and her mother that they can’t tell anyone. If they do, Becca and her mother could die. Becca had to enter a different high school, in a different state, and make new friends. She can’t have any social media sites, and has to take down her Facebook page. Becca and her mom get through the three years, except when applying for colleges and financial aid, the truth is starting to come out. Becca applies for a scholarship, although accidentally sends in the wrong essay. In an interview, Becca blurts out that she’s the daughter of a prisoner. The people interviewing her don’t believe her, and thinks she’s going crazy. Becca’s mother is afraid of people finding out about her husband, and Becca is afraid of never going to college. Should Becca find out the truth and tell her friends? Or should she stay in her mother’s shadow, not going to college until her father gets out of jail? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Overall, Full-Ride really good read. I liked how this book was realistic. At the end of the book, there is a surprise, something you wouldn’t expect from a character that is mentioned, but isn’t seen a lot. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a good realistic fiction read. Full-Ride is truly a good book about high school, and getting into college.

-Rebecca V.

Full Ride is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

catcherintherye_salingerThe Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, is a novel that expresses the loss of innocence adolescents are required to experience in their transition into adulthood. The book begins with the main character, Holden Caulfield, talking to what is later revealed to be a therapist about his life experiences since he got kicked out of yet another school because of his bad grades. At the very beginning of the book, Holden clarifies that he doesn’t want to say all that “David Copperfield crap”, alluding to Dickens books about Copperfield that went into extreme detail about every aspect of his life.

As the story progresses, we learn that Holden’s younger brother, Allie, died from leukemia. Ever since then, Holden has been almost obsessed with the idea that innocence must be preserved in children, even going to the extent of saying his dream job would be being the catcher in the rye. He explains the job description to be hundreds of kids running around on a field of rye and whenever one of the children nears the cliff, Holden reaches down and catches them. Another way he shows his need to contain innocence in children is through his little sister Phoebe. His constant control and protection over Phoebe shows Holden’s need to preserve innocence. However, at the very end of the book, Holden accepts the fact that innocence cannot be preserved and that you must let children grow from their mistakes.

All in all, the underlying themes and ideas in this book allow for a piece of great literature that I greatly recommend. However, it should be targeted for more mature audiences because of certain scenes in the book. Although it is a generally censored book, that should not stop you from reading it because the questionable scenes all contain underlying messages that only add the book and it helps us get a better understanding of the book. In the end, The Catcher in the Rye should be a book on everybody’s reading list.

-Melika R.