Saturday, January 13, 2018

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Blade's father is a famous rock star but he's also an alcoholic who has made more promises to get sober than Blade can remember.  After he crashes Blade's high school graduation in a drunken stupor, Blade has had enough.  All he really wants is to spend time with his girlfriend Chapel but her parents have forbidden her to see Blade because they believe he will be just like his father.  Then, another bombshell rocks his world as he learns that he's adopted.  Feeling like he needs to meet his biological mother, Blade decides to go to Ghana where she is working.

I never felt the love that others did for Alexander's sports books so I was surprised to find myself drawn into Solo.  It's still not one of my favorite books of all time or anything, but it's quite different from what I expect from him and the storyline was more to my liking.  I could identify with Blade's withdrawal from his dad after having his hopes for a more stable father crushed so many times.  Blade's sister, while a good character to keep Blade grounded, was a little too good to be true in that she didn't seem to be struggling at all with or reacting negatively to the addiction.  

I am confused about why Blade's adoption has been a secret for so long.  In fact, I'm confused about HOW his adoption could've been kept secret for so long.  Since his dad is so famous, wouldn't the fans have noticed when the family suddenly acquired a baby 18 years ago?  When he finally does meet his bio mom and reads the letter his adoptive mom has left for him, it appears the two women knew each other so, again, I don't know why this has been a secret all this time.  And speaking of his eventual meeting with his mom....  After all this build up and Blade's need to find some answers, their conversation which consisted of questions only - questions as "answers" to questions - was poetic (perhaps) but not very satisfying when it comes to what I would expect to transpire after a long delayed, long-lost family meeting.  Is Blade supposed to now feel more sure of where he is in the world?  I'm not getting it.

Finally, I have a question about Joy, the girl Blade meets in Ghana.  To be accurate, I don't know that I have a question about her, but I wonder about this character in light of a lot of reading I've done over the past few years regarding diversity in books.  One criticism that comes up a lot is when authors write a character that is a different race from themselves and how they cannot truly get the voice right and, in fact, often include character traits that are downright offensive.  In this case I think specifically about Debbie Reese's complaints about Touching Spirit Bear which she doesn't like because of the stereotypical magical, wise old Native American characters.  Although those men are the two most positive characters in the book, she points out that they fill the bill of the mystical native person which then flattens them to a damaging stereotype.  I don't know that I agree because I really like those characters, but then again, I'm not Native American so it's not really up to me to say.  But with that argument in mind, then isn't Joy exactly that same character?  She is there as a foil to Blade's shallow Western life and always has a wise saying to offer that helps him develop tolerance and understanding.  I feel like she's the stereotypical wise woman from a quieter, "foreign" culture (to Americans, anyway) who exists in the book only to be a sage for the main character.  If I hadn't been doing so much reading about writing to include diversity I'm sure I would've really liked Joy as a calm, happy character but now I can't separate out these issues.

So in conclusion, I liked the book more than expected, but it appears I still had quite a few issues with the authenticity of the characters. 

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