Solo by Kwame Alexander (9780310761839, Amazon)
Blade has grown up with all sorts of privileges as the son of a rock star, but the big house and huge parties come at a cost. His father is always humiliating him, like when he crashes (literally) Blade’s graduation ceremony where Blade is meant to give a speech. His father tries to clean up his act regularly, but it never seems to stick and he returns to drugs and alcohol. Blade also misses his mother terribly after her death. When Blade finally confronts his father about his behavior, a family secret is revealed that changes Blade’s perspective permanently. He sets off to discover his own history, a journey that takes him to Ghana, a place entirely different than the one he has been living in.
Newbery-Medal winner Alexander has crafted another amazing verse novel here. He moves firmly into teen territory here, with a 17-year-old protagonist who is truly on a journey to discover himself. Alexander starts the novel with the excess of a rock legend’s life and then beautifully changes the novel mid-course to Ghana and people who live as a strong community with few luxuries. The two settings could not be more different nor could what Blade feels while he is in each. Ghana is vividly depicted as is Blade’s reaction to it, rich with people and place.
Alexander’s poetry writing is superb in both settings. Yet it truly comes alive in Ghana, particularly with Joy, Blade’s guide and inspiration while there. Just as Blade cannot look away from Joy, neither can the novel nor the reader since she is so captivating. Throughout the book, there are questions asked that are deep, about wealth and poverty, about privilege and race, about addiction and recovery, about parenting and failure. This is a rich book filled with lots to discover and discuss.
A great read that will be enjoyed by even those teens who may not think they’d like a verse novel. Appropriate for ages 15-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Emmanuel was born in Ghana, West Africa, with a deformed leg. His father left the family but his mother continued to encourage Emmanuel to make something of himself. Emmanuel taught himself to crawl and hop, so he was able to hop the two miles to school and then hop all the way back home at the end of the day. At school kids would not play with him at first, so he saved up his money to buy a new soccer ball that he shared with the others as long as they let him play too. Soon he was playing soccer using crutches to get around. It was at school that Emmanuel also taught himself to ride a bike. Then his mother fell ill and Emmanuel had to leave school to support his family. He headed for the big city of Accra where he looked for a job. It took time, but he started working as a shoe shiner and for a restaurant that also gave him a place to stay. He sent money home and two years later returned home because his mother’s health was failing. After her death, he decided to follow his dream to bike around Ghana. He worked to get help with his dream, becoming a spokesperson in his country for people with disabilities. He completed his journey of 400 miles in just ten days, an amazing journey that proved that one person’s dreams could deeply change a culture.
Thompson’s writing is in stanzas and moves between feeling like poetry and prose. This fluidity makes the book very readable, it also lets her make her points with a grace and brevity that is purely poetic. Thompson’s text shines with her appreciation for Emmanuel and his achievements in life. Where his culture told him that he was cursed and unworthy, he has become a hero. It is also a sort of tangible heroism that children will completely understand. They will know what his achievement is and how difficult it would be to accomplish.
Qualls’ illustrations are incredible. Filled with beautiful people, strong color, patterns and light, the illustrations let the backgrounds fade to white and black and the people come forward and shine. Bright colors ripple across skin, fill cheeks, and color the air around people. There is a sense of life within these illustrations, one that can’t be contained.
A truly inspiring story that shows the creation of a national hero from his infancy through his achievements. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House and Edelweiss.