Today’s review is on Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess.
It’s not secret that I am a huge fan of novels told in verse – in fact I think there should be more of them. I don’t know why I love them so much, I think it has to do with just the format, as well as the fact that authors who do tell their stories in verse are really good at doing so. They are able to convey a story that is compelling while leaving out the baggage of description that often plagues regular prose.
Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess do a great job of conveying a story in verse about Blade Rutherford, who has just graduated high school, and who’s dad is a washed up rockstar trying to make his big comeback. Blade also has a girlfriend that he adores, even though her parents don’t like him because of who his father is. However, very soon his world comes crashing down when his dad ruins graduation and checks into rehab (again), his girlfriend is cheating on him with her ex-boyfriend, and he discovers that his parents have lied to him his whole life about who he really is. In an effort to discover who he is and to get some sort of closure, Blade travels to Ghana to try and meet a woman who might have the answers he is searching for, but before he meets her, he will learn that there is a whole other way of living that the plush lifestyle he is used to.
Blade is an interesting character, because there are times when he seems like a spoiled brat, but then over the course of the novel he grows as a character and chooses to be selfless, and even see that his life is pretty comfortable compared to others around the world. In some ways, Blade is forced to check his privilege when he gets to Ghana because it is a very different place from anything else he has experienced, but it ends up being the best thing that happens to him. Not only do we see Blade trying to figure out who he is, but we also see him in some ways start to forge a bond with his father again, even though it is trepidatious since Blade believes it is all for show and that his father just cares about his big comeback.
Alexander and Hess do a great job of depicting what the search for one’s identity is, especially when they discover that everything that they thought to be true comes crashing down around them. Blade is a believable character, although he gets to go on a journey of self-discovery that many people get the opportunity to do so.
Another aspect of the novel that I liked is that it is also about music, and learning to make music again and discovering it’s magic again, even after life has dealt out several blows. One of the ways that music is weaved into the novel is that we get the lyrics for some of the songs that Blade has written. Another way is that some of the titles of the passages are popular song titles and then the poem is something in the plot that is connected to that song in some way. It also cannot be denied that a lot of the verses throughout the novel have almost a lyrical quality to them, as if the novel could be a musical of some sort, except without all the flashiness of the music.
Readers will enjoy the journey from Los Angeles to Ghana, and the beauty of the African backdrop, while also realizing that they are very blessed and fortunate. Throughout the novel, we are taught a little about the culture and the hardship that those living in Ghana experience. It even gives some commentary bout how those who go on humanitarian trips to third-world countries think they might be doing a lot of good, but sometimes they don’t do enough. For example in the novel there is a scene where a character mentions a well that was built by some missionaries, however they never taught the people on how to fix the well when it breaks, and as a result they have to go back to traveling several miles just to get water to go about their daily lives. The same character also makes a comment that these volunteers always give them what they think they want/need, but never bother to ask the people what is that they truly need – and it was definitely interesting to read about, and also not wrong!
I highly recommend Solo for anyone who is a fan of novels in verse, as well as reading a story about the search for one’s identity. I hope to read more from Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess in the future. 4/5 Stars.
Janelle L. C.