- First published in 2014 by Harper Collins Children’s Books UK
- Format: Paperback – Published in 2021 by Harper Collins Children’s Books UK
- Reading Time: 5 repetitive days
- I originally picked this as my Free Space book for the LGBTQ month readathon but then I realised it didn’t have the asexual rep that I was hoping for (this is why you should always read the reviews first). So, I decided to rethink my original picks and make this my Pink Cover pick. I’d already DNFed my first pick for the Pink Cover so this was a good replacement. This story takes place in the Heartstopper universe and is told by Charlie’s sister, Tori. Tori is faced with the prospect of choosing what to do after finishing school and with lingering troubles at home. Her life feels like it’s at a dead end until an eccentric pansexual boy named Michael Holden and a mysterious prankster, Solitaire, come into her life to shake her out of the dark torpor she’s sinking into.
- Not sure what to make of Tori. It’s clear from the outset that she’s dealing with a lot of guilt over what happened to her brother and that she has her own problems to deal with. She’s often her own worst enemy too since she doesn’t keep a good sleep schedule, has a habit of alienating her friends and doesn’t try to reach for any kind of goal. At times, that feels in-character but, at others, it feels infuriating. For me, one of the most infuriating parts was where she stated that refuses to read books because she doesn’t like ‘fake’ things and yet she’s perfectly happy with films. She does at least acknowledge that this thinking doesn’t make sense The ‘Catcher in the Rye’ comparison is a fair one (one of the characters even has the name ‘Holden’) as there’s a lot of talk about disliking ‘fake’ things and looking down on everyone else for liking them. Unlike Holden Caulfield, it is clear that Tori has some serious problems. Crucially, she eventually does start to realise that she might be the problem and that the well-meaning people around her might have a point that she needs help.
- Definitely liked Michael more. Every time he entered the scene, you know he’s going to be entertaining and/or leave you something that’ll leave you enjoyably baffled. He’s endearing and sweet for the most part though he does show a darker side to the point when I was genuinely worried that he’d turn out to be a villain. He clearly wants to be profound and poetic. Whether or not he actually is will up to the reader. Sometimes, he comes off as astute and, sometimes, he comes off as a whiny teenager. He’s a complicated character, in short, who not everyone would like but I certainly do. The book had a good go at making the other characters (like Ben and Becky) complicated with no clear hero or villain. Those efforts were a little hit and miss but I appreciate the effort.
- I figured out the big twist of who Solitaire was pretty early on. I think most readers will have it narrowed down to two people within a few chapters. That’s not to say Solitaire is dull. The pranks they pull are always original, funny and impressive in execution. I kind of wish I’d had such creative pranksters during my school days. At least, at first. The pranks may seem fun and harmless but, after a while, the joke stops being funny. The pranks turn, at best, uninspired and, at worst, dangerous.
- Finding it lucky that I picked this up after I finishing Volume 4 of Heartstopper. I would definitely recommend doing the same if you’re thinking of picking it up as it does contain quite a few Volume 4 spoilers and a few Heartstopper spoilers in general.
- Fairly decent handling of mental health. I’d be interesting to know which parts of that were original and which were added later. A preface in my edition stated that the author went back and edited the parts that were harmful and sensationalised in 2020. I don’t usually like it when authors go back and try to ‘fix’ their previous works but, judging by the pre-2020 reviews for this book, it was probably for the best.
- Endlessly circular and repetitive conversations between Tori and Michael were one of the most annoying things about the book. This is especially true when Tori tries to push him away, thinking she doesn’t deserve a friend like him. By about the fourth time, I was ready to throw my hands up and say ‘okay, I get it, she has self-sabotaging tendencies, you only need to show that once or twice’. It’s in those moments that it becomes clear that it was Oseman’s first book. The message was clear but the execution could have been better.
- Rather sluggish plot that’s definitely more character than story driven. That means a lot of introspection and a lot of scenes that don’t seem to serve any narrative purpose which probably won’t be for everyone so be warned. Don’t get me wrong. There are a few very good dramatic scenes, including the moment when a homophobe is outed as such to his peers and the punishment is not nearly as satisfying as you’d think. Those, however, require a lot of work to get to. I often caught myself feeling stupid because I was sure a scene was saying something to me and I wasn’t getting it. The book could have done with being at least fifty pages shorter, allowing the story to become tighter and more focussed.
- Entertaining the idea that this would probably make a good teen movie. There are certainly a lot of teen movie tropes in there with house parties, long time friendships getting ruined by boys and a mysterious figure causing trouble around the school. The ending in particular (no spoilers) felt like something out of an 80s or 90s teen movie but in a good way.
- Not a lot of focus on the LGBTQ elements. Nick and Charlie appear and they are as cute as ever. Michael states he’s pansexual but not an awful lot is made about it. I think Tori is graysexual or demisexual but not a lot of examination is made into that either.
- Thought I would love this book but I ended up only just liking it. There was some good material but it took far too much effort to get to. It’s a real shame because I liked Tori a lot in the Heartstopper novels and I don’t think this book did her justice. That said, I’d be interested to see how much of this story makes it into the next volume of Heartstopper (if any at all) and if a new perspective will put a new spin on the action.
Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
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