Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Teen/YA Review: Solo

The award-winning YA novel Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess was published in 2017, and I heard nothing but rave reviews of it. I did add it to my want-to-read list, but in spite of all the praise, I kept putting it off. I'd heard it was a novel in verse, and I'm not a big poetry fan usually. I did absolutely love Brown Girl Dreaming (a YA memoir in verse) by Jacqueline Woodson, but still, I kept putting off reading Solo. Then, I downloaded an audio version of the book from SYNC and recently found the time to listen to it. I was completely blown away by this powerful, unique, musical novel about a teen boy trying to find his place in the world in the shadow of his famous father. The audio book, in particular, was outstanding.

Blade seems to live a charmed life from the outside. His father, Rutherford Morrison, is a famous rock musician, so Blade lives with him and his sister, Storm, in a huge house, with a pool and every possible luxury. But Blade lost his mother when he was only eight years ago, and his father is an alcoholic and drug addict who is even more famous these days for the trouble he gets into than for his music. Blade wants nothing to do with his escapades, his wild lifestyle, or his long trail of broken promises. Blade has inherited his family's musical talent, but while Storm and Rutherford are into hard rock, he prefers quieter, softer music. The bright spot in Blade's life is his girlfriend, Chapel, but her preacher father won't let her see Blade. He fears he will be a bad influence on his daughter because of what he reads about Blade's dad in the media. Blade and Chapel have to sneak around to see each other. Blade is doing his best to hang on until the fall, when he will finally be able to leave home, and he and Chapel will be attending college together. That hope for a brighter future is blown apart, though, when Rutherford (once again) ruins one of the biggest moments in Blade's life, his relationship with Chapel is turned upside down, and he learns some shocking news about his family. Emotionally destroyed, Blade takes off on the journey of a lifetime, to find his place in the world.

As I mentioned, this is a novel in verse, so the print book (which I got out of the library partway through the audio) looks like a series of short poems on the pages. Once you get into the book, though, you realize that this unique book incorporates conversations, texting, songs, and more. Some of Blade's own songs that he's written, describing his feelings and experiences, are interspersed throughout the novel, as well as tracks from a mix CD that Storm made for Blade (some of the songs well-known and others more obscure). On audio, all of these elements come across as a cohesive whole story. In fact, I forgot at first that it was in verse. The story, narrated by the author, just sounded impactful and rhythmic, with emotional depth. Listen to the audio sample on this page to get an idea of the feeling and flow of the novel; it includes Blade's memories of when he and Chapel first met. The audio book won the Audie Award for Young Adult in 2018.

Audio was definitely the right way for me to experience this beautiful novel, given my inexperience with (and I'll admit, bias against) poetry. I could just allow myself to fall into the details of the story, not even realizing it was laid out in verse. Additionally, because music is such a huge part of the story (and of Blade's life), I loved being able to not only read the lyrics but actually hear Blade's own original songs, sung by Randy Preston on the audio. I was fully immersed in the story immediately and completely engrossed, anxious to pick it up again anytime I had to set it down. The novel itself had far more depth to it than I expected, with Blade's pain and desire for meaning palpable. I was sorry when it ended and it was time to leave Blade but so inspired that I began playing the songs from the mix CD tracks that are mentioned throughout the book. This is an amazing, moving story told in a unique and powerful way. Highly recommended, especially on audio (or do what I did and experience it both ways!).

464 pages, Blink

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Listen to a sampleof the audio book, read by the author, here and/or download it from Audible.

You can purchase Solo from an independent bookstore, either locally or online, here:
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Or you can order Solo from Book Depository, with free shipping worldwide.


  1. I thin I have this on audio, too. Will have to check around and see if I still have it. (It's probably on my iPod, which I rarely use anymore.

    1. My iPod is my constant companion :) (no smart phone or tablet!).

      Hope you find it and enjoy it!

  2. That's so great that you get to hear the music when you do the audio of this book; very clever of them. I have gotten used to reading YA novels in verse and the ones I've read have been excellent.

    1. Yes, the music really made it extra-special. I want to read more by these authors now!