This is the third Kwame Alexander book that I have read in the past year or so and I am enjoying the ways he (and here, his co-author Mary Rand Hess) use free verse poetry to explore a character’s inner life and inner story. This one — Solo — captured my attention for the music element, as the main character is both a songwriter and musician, and comes from a musical family.
Blade Morrison, 17, has just graduated high school, and he’s a mess. Not quite ready to move on but oh, so ready to move on. His father, a world-famous rock and roll star with all of the stereotypical problems of drugs and alcohol and need for the limelight, has a suffocating personality that vexes Blade. Blade’s mom, who died years earlier, is a memory that both haunts him and guides him.
Oh, and Blade’s girlfriend … well, things are complicated.
And then the complications becomes even more so when Blade learns that he is adopted and that his birth mother is in Africa, doing work in a village in Ghana. So begins the second part of Solo, as Blade comes to understand a bit about himself, his father, and the world at large as he travels to Africa to meet his birth mother.
The book uses scattered verse, sometimes relayed in short dialogue-drive stanzas and sometimes just as short phrases as Blade tries to navigate a difficult world. Music is always just a heartbeat away, however, and the weaving of song and poetry, and story, is a nice mesh done well by Alexander and Hess. We see into Blade’s heart as well as his mind.
This book would be a solid fit for high school students and some upper middle school students. It captures the world of confusion often facing so many teenagers as they take their first steps out in the world, away from the protective net of family. And above all, the story reminds us that love does indeed bind us together, and holds us together even when we least expect it.
Peace (sings the blues),
PS — a bonus video as Kwame Alexander shares how he wrote Solo