Following on from our look at Christian YA Fiction, we review Solo, the new novel from Kwame Alexander & Mary Rand Hess.
Halfway between a song and a story, Solo seemingly does everything in it’s power to distance itself from it’s own title. The novel is no single voice. No solo act. It is made up of a cacophony of voices that sing, speak, text, shout, cry, and dream. NYT Bestselling author Kwame Alexander, along with Mary Rand Hess, have turn their backs on the standard form of a novel to tell the whole story through verse instead. Every page of Solo is a fresh poem, as well as a continuation of the story of Blaze Morrison; son to a wildly-unpredictable, and past-his-prime, rock star.
If only a drink-and-drug addicted father were his only worry.
Along with a hounding from drama-thirsty paparazzi, Blaze is haunted by the death of his mother when he was just a child, struggling to bring a little stability to the life of him and his sister, Storm, as well as dating a girl whose father loathes the whole Morrison clan. An average day for Blaze usually ends in an unwanted party.
Like a cheap, leather jacket, Blaze’s life is uncomfortable, shadowed by Rock and Roll, and coming apart at the seams.
At the apex of his anxiety, a family secret turns Blaze’s life upside down. From this point Solo takes itself out of L.A, and away from the imported palm trees, convertibles, and mansions. Undercutting the plastic drama of L.A is a bold move. One misstep, and the gravity of all Blaze and his family experience would seem about as removed from reality as you can get. Fortunately, that step is never made. Also, the immediacy with which a couple of Solo’s plot threads are dropped hint that perhaps they couldn’t be carried into the book’s second half without undermining emotional investment needed to keep Blaze sympathetic. Hiccups aside, Solo does try to push readers out of their own bubbles.
Ultimately, Solo is a novel of roots, both musically and familiarly. Hardly a page goes by a song isn’t referenced, name-checked, punned upon, or even suggested songs to listen to. Maya Angelou wrote that "Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness", and that is precisely same refuge sought by Blaze. Jumping from Robert Johnson to U2 to Bob Dylan to The Black Keys, music is both a refuge and a voice. Even Blaze himself composes songs that can only ever have been written by a love-struck and lost 19 year old. Maudlin, yet saccharine, ballads of romance and heaving emotions that near-every teenage has scribbled a some point in their lives.
As a novel, Solo does hold it’s own. Despite lunging beyond 400 pages, the verse format means that the novel feels longer than your average novella. But of the commitment to tell a story purely through verse, the author’s do deserve a note of applause. The lack of a weightier narration so intrinsic to prose means that it can be difficult to feel grounded in a place with the book. Visual details are secondary to voice. This creates an effect that in theory shouldn’t work: the novel feels unreal for lacking undefined locations, but retains such an authenticity of voice that this never really becomes a problem. We all have images of what Hollywood is like, and so Solo is happy to let you fill in those blanks.
A thoroughly musical novel, Solo may wear it’s soundtrack on its sleeve, but when it needs to, it knows that human connection isn’t a rock song, but the drum beat felt in embrace.
Release in Hardback on the 25th of July, Solo can be pre-odered today. To hear from Kwame Alexander himself, listen to this video of his experience writing a novel made entirely of verse.
June 23rd, 2017 - Posted & Written by Aaron Lewendon