Summary (courtesy of GoodReads): Ren Segura, Jackal to her friends, is the Hope of Ko Island, the world's only corporate nation state. Born at the right time, she is part of an elite group that will inherit powerful positions representing their nations in EarthGov. She has been groomed for the moment of her ascension her entire life--it is her birthright and her destiny. But a deadly secret makes her an inconvenient liability to her corporate masters and, in Solitaire, destinies are not always in the cards. Caught between corporate loyalty and self-doubt, Jackal finds herself cast away to an experimental, virtual solitary confinement program that will change her forever. Author Kelley Eskridge's first novel is an intense and powerful tale of self-discovery set in a convincingly articulated future. She skillfully keeps the reader turning pages as Jackal's fate unravels. Meanwhile, Eskridge deals with issues of crime and punishment, corporate power, and even fame with a deft touch that keeps the reader painfully close to the young Jackal's journey into oblivion and back again.
And here's what I thought: This is a book that I've read a few times over, just because I like it, and I like to revisit the story. As you can tell from the above summary, it's a bit science fiction-y in plot (corporate nation state, virtual solitary confinement), but it's really a story of self-discovery, driven not by science, but by the main character and how she handles her situation. Ren's an interesting character; she has been lifted up as a "Hope" since she was a child, always given great opportunities, and groomed to become a leader. This doesn't mean she's perfect, by any means, so don't think that you'll be getting one of those "pretty, smart, perfect, can no do wrong" kinds of characters here. She's smart, but the pressure of constantly being seen as elite, and always having to measure up to those expectations, take a toll on her. When she's convicted of murder, and sentenced to solitary confinement, you'd think her life would be over. But it's not.
Eskridge does the clever plot twist of making Jackal's solitary confinement a virtual one: her body is in a machine that keeps her alive, feeds her, etc., and her mind is in a virtual solitary cell. When she's in the cell, it's completely believable -- Jackal feels like she is physically there, and must come up with a way to endure her confinement. Needless to say, this isn't the easiest of tasks. I won't tell you what happens in the solitary cell --- suffice to say, Jackal really has to come to terms with who she really is.
And, I'm not giving away any spoilers here to say that she does get released eventually (if you read the book jacket, it's clearly implied, and it's a large chunk of the story). However - the question is: has her mind survived her time inside solitary confinement? Can she survive in the real world again? I'm not telling. However, this is another part of her journey of self-discovery, and probably why I enjoy reading this book so much. Even though I know what's going to happen, and how it ends, I always like how Jackal moves through the story, and how she learns about who she really is.
I suppose there are many things I like about this book: Jackal, the idea of virtual solitary confinement, and the personal journey. I always enjoy reading it for the writing, as well. Eskridge's writing is descriptive without being flowery, evocative without being over-emotional. Example: "I won't cry, she told herself; and she thought it was probably true. She was hollow now, as if someone had stuck a sponge down her throat and absorbed everything within her. Perhaps it would be easier to get through - and here her mind skipped over what exactly it ws she would need to get through, the circumspect voice within her saying no, not ready - if she kept that numbness, if she felt nothing." p. 141 If you're looking for a book of self-discovery, think about trying this one -- and don't worry if you think "I don't read science fiction." A story of self-discovery doesn't have to be bound within the confines of a certain genre.
First sentence: "So here she was, framed in the open double doors like a photograph: Jackal Segura on the worst day of her life, preparing to join the party."
Thoughts on the cover: I like the simple picture, which shows a grayed-out face, with a box showing the same face, in color. Completely captures the idea of being confined to one space, with no one to keep you company but yourself.