Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Solo Book Poster Image
Poignant tale of rock star's son fleeing fame, finding self.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

The novel uses rock 'n' roll as its backdrop and emotional anchor, exposing readers to poignant rock 'n' roll songs through the ages. Descriptions of the African country of Ghana and people's lives, struggles, and joys there is a focus in the latter half of the book.

Positive messages

Strong messages about forgiveness, love, family, battling addiction, and responsibility. When after a bad breakup and family troubles Blade decides that love  -- romantic or otherwise -- isn't  for him, Joy says of love, "I know that in order to receive it, you must give it, and that in order to give it, you must have it." 


Positive role models & representations

Amid his father's addiction-fueled antics, Blade often acts as the responsible adult in the household, including warning his father not to use a Ghanaian village as a prop for his comeback reality TV show. His sister doesn't always make the best decisions, including throwing a boozy party and blurting out a huge family secret in anger, but she displays a capacity to forgive and love her family through tough circumstances. She also gives Blade a daily reality check regarding his privileged circumstances. Joy is unafraid to tell Blade the truth, and her experienced-based advice cuts through Blade's pity party. She's a true friend and leader in her Ghanaian village.


An almost-fight between teens, a woman dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, a child with malaria dies. An adult smashes items while intoxicated. Mention of a fight between adults and the murder of a singer's mother -- both take place off page without many details.


Typical teen romance with kissing, once mentioned with tongue, and teens holding hands. Discussion about groupies, scantily clad women, and an adult male with multiple sexual partners over time. No overt sexual situations, however.


Some name calling, such as "stupid" and "acting like Jack."


Some name brands mentioned, including designer guitar brands and specific rock bands and artists, including Metallica, Aretha Franklin, and Tears for Fears in the context of the story.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Extreme addiction in an adult, discussion of teens drinking, being drunk and smoking, an instance of a child accidently ingesting cocaine and being hospitalized. There are consequences associated with it, including Child Protective Services getting involved. Effects of detoxing described, including shaking, nausea, and sweating.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Solo, by Newbery Medal winner Kwame Alexander (The Crossover) with poet and author Mary Rand Hess, is a novel in free verse about 17-year-old Blade, a Los Angeles musician, songwriter, and neglected son who begins to see the cost of fame. The story involves Blade's rock star dad's addiction, the death of a parent by allergic reaction, the death of a child from disease, adoption and heritage, as well as typical teen coming-of-age issues of first love, identity, and forgiveness. Parents should be prepared to discuss these topics and the topics of teen sexuality, trust, and working out family issues. They should also be ready to talk about tabloid and social media celebrity. 

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What's the story?

In SOLO, Blade Morrison has one parent who is dead, another who's a rock legend and legendary screw up, a girlfriend who has to keep their relationship secret, and a sister who straddles the line between super annoying and somewhat supportive. He lives under the Morrison family cloud of fame, excess, and celebrity that shelters and imprisons him. There's also a big family secret looming that will rock his world -- and not in a good way. When Blade's dad's addiction screws up the biggest day of Blade's life, he makes a decision to cut loose from the family and the fame, and looks to a future with his girl, Chapel. Will Blade break free of the notoriety of being a Morrison? Will Chapel get free of her family? And is there any hope that Blade's dad will break free from his addiction? Family, secrets, fame, and music drive Blade to places he never imagined, including a little village in Ghana.

Is it any good?

This masterfully woven tale of forgiveness, family, music, and coming-of-age amid excess and secrets is a compelling book for these "insta-celebrity" times. While most teens dream of the perks of celebrity, Kwame Alexander shows in Solo that there's a very real downside as he also explores the growing pains every teen faces. Blade Morrison is a well-developed character that connects emotionally with readers. Through him, Alexander shows the stress of family dynamics, the healing power of forgiveness, and the power of music to emotionally support the soul.
Teens will love the current and cool vibe of the book, while adults will appreciate the life lessons and nods to classic rock favorites. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about fantasy vs. reality in Solo. How does the media's portrayal of celebrities compare with the reality of life lived in the public eye? How might life be hard if you were a celebrity? What wouldn't you want people to discuss about your family and life if you were a celebrity? 

  • How does forgiveness help in Solo? Have you ever had trouble forgiving a family member? How did that affect your relationship?

  • Kwame Alexander tells his story in free verse. What makes poetry a good fit for a story about music? What other interesting ways have you seen people tell a story?

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