Baby & Solo
By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Harrowing, funny, heart-filled saga of troubled '90s teens.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Fans of '90s pop culture will be in heaven with the immersion in movies (especially Star Wars and Dirty Dancing), music (R.E.M. and Bon Jovi in particular), cars (Chrysler LeBaron), clothes, etc. Much of the story takes place in a locally owned video rental store, which is pretty much no longer a thing. Lots of quotes from motivational posters of the era.
Strong messages of friendship, responsibility, kindness, empathy, and acceptance. Figure out who you are and stand up for yourself. Help and support the people around you, and have them do the same for you. Forgive people for the past and do your best to accept them as they are.
Positive Role Models
Seventeen-year-old narrator Joel (Solo) is confused, overwhelmed, and shamed by a past that's included family tragedy, mental illness, and lots of addled misbehavior with fellow teens in a psychiatric hospital. Naturally smart, imaginative, and kind, he's determined to do what it takes to have a normal life with real friends, and does his best to be empathetic and behave wisely with the new people in his life, especially Baby. He also responds to a crisis by working harder, especially cleaning the store. Nicole (Baby) is smart, hardworking, snarky, and also confused and overwhelmed. She's not afraid to ask for help in a crisis, which is just what Joel needs right now, and she also has an insightful perspective on his trouble when she learns about it. In the background is 16-year-old Crystal, who may be a hallucination, or she may be a ghost, or something else entirely, but for years she was Joel's greatest comfort post-tragedy, and also the thing that got him in the most trouble every time she showed up, so he's trying to avoid her now.
Violence & Scariness
There's a lot of mental and emotional violence, much of it with good intentions, in the wake of a past family tragedy, most of it falling on Joel and landing him in mental hospitals. A suicide and a suicide attempt in the distant past have far-reaching, traumatic effects. A character aborts a child who's very much wanted by the father. Another pregnant character faces pressure from her ex-boyfriend to do likewise.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Teens having sex and the unplanned pregnancies that result, past and present, are a recurring theme, but the sex happens in the background and there's no graphic description. In the past, bored teens in a mental hospital had a lot of sex to pass the time, with bad results including a suicide attempt. A character discovers his father is cheating on his mom. A gay character has a crush on a guy who likes him but doesn't return his feelings. A teen girl dresses and behaves provocatively in inappropriate situations (sexually harassing the guys she supervises at work).
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Plentiful strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "piss," "dick," "ass," "a--hole," "bitch," "boobs," "damn," "goddamn," "hell," "crap."
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Products & Purchases
Baby & Solo takes its name from the protagonists in Dirty Dancing and Star Wars, and there's a steady barrage of brand names for products, services, media, cars, and other pop culture in 1996-67. While many of those brands still live, here it's more immersive scene-setting than product placement.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Several scenes involve the restaurant/bar where a character's mom works. Adults and teens drink alcohol, some to excess, which is not seen as attractive, especially the barfing. An older teen girl going through a hard time drinks a lot and then drunkenly tries to get teen guys to have sex before she eventually passes out medical attention. An adult character chain-smokes, and other adult and teen characters smoke on occasion.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Lisabeth Posthuma's Baby & Solo is set in 1996 and told by an angsty, overthinking 17-year-old boy who's just emerged from years of therapy and harrowing stints in psychiatric hospitals in the wake of a mysterious family tragedy. Now he's hoping to have a normal life, starting with a job at the neighborhood video rental store. On his first day of work, he's given the name Solo (after Han, because he likes Star Wars -- all the employees take the name of movie characters). He also meets his new colleague, diligent, hardworking, snarky, and frequently puking Baby (reluctantly stuck with the name of the lead character in Dirty Dancing). As the story unfolds and an uneasy friendship develops, crises emerge and past traumas are revealed -- teen sex and pregnancy, homophobia, parents cheating on spouses, suicide, problem drinking, imaginary friends, and more -- amid more mundane miscommunication, regret, unrequited crushes, and workplace squabbles. Strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "piss, "a--hole") is common. The story carries positive messages of friendship, empathy, kindness, support, dependability, and understanding, even -- and especially -- when people don't live up to your expectations and things are running off the rails on numerous fronts. The protagonists spend a lot of time dealing with overwhelming issues and don't always make the right decisions, but each of their moral compasses keeps them on a path to figuring out who they really are, doing the right thing, and making an authentic, happy life.
Where to Read
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What's the Story?
As BABY & SOLO opens, it's 1996, and 17-year-old Joel's therapist has given him the go-ahead to get a part-time job as a first step to rebuilding his life in the wake of a mysterious family tragedy when he was a child. The last seven years have been a nightmare of psychiatric hospitals (and the trouble you can get into with your fellow teens while there), therapy, and traumatized parents trying to act for the best and generally making things worse. Soon he's at the neighborhood video store, where all the employees take the names of movie characters and he's called Solo, after Han.Tasked with training him, his new colleague Baby (after the Dirty Dancing character, and already really sick of those "put Baby in a corner" jokes) does not suffer fools gladly. She also has issues that come into play. An uneasy, engaging, and movie-steeped friendship develops -- but will it last, with all the baggage?
Is It Any Good?
In Lisabeth Posthuma's blast from the past, teen video-store employees cope with relationships, dysfunctional families, pregnancy, mental illness, homophobia, and the mixed joys of customer service. As Baby & Solo's protagonists rise above many adversities -- some scarring, some hilarious, some just sad -- readers share their quest and cheer them on in their struggles to resolve childhood traumas and have a good life. Along the way, the plot threads entangle and the wild cast of peripheral characters have troubles of their own. Then there's the imaginary friend, who's caused a lot of trouble already. And, hanging over it all, the mysterious Bad Thing That Happened years ago, casting a long shadow. There's never a dull moment in this lively, emotional page-turner that leaves its protagonists -- and readers -- with lots to think about.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why the author chose to set Baby & Solo in the '90s. Why has that era has become so popular in books, movies and TV shows? What other stories do you know from that time period, and how does Baby & Solo compare with them?
Now that video rental stores have pretty much disappeared and you can easily see movies on devices and TV screens, do you think we miss anything by not going to a store to browse media titles?
Do you have friends or classmates who have suffered a devastating, life-changing loss in their families? How are they coping? Do you feel like you can do anything to support them, or do you just feel kind of helpless?
- Author: Lisabeth Posthuma
- Genre: Friendship
- Topics: Friendship
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Candlewick Press
- Publication date: May 11, 2021
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 17
- Number of pages: 416
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: September 27, 2021
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