Ears on the Odyssey

Audio Review: Solo

Everything Blade wants to do can’t happen soon enough: graduate high school, go to college with the love of his life Chapel and of course make great music. But Blade’s famous hard living rock and roll star Dad, Rutherford, can’t seem to let go of over the past. Rutherford drinks, parties, and makes a splash in the tabloids for it all. Rutherford finds a way as he always does to blow up Blade’s life just before Blade’s dreams come together. In this madness, Blade uncovers a secret about his own identity. Forced to figure out who he is, Blade winds up far from his posh LA mansion searching for love and sense of self.

Solo is a book written in poetic verse centered around music. The audio version is narrated by the principal author Kwame Alexander and helps breathe  new life into this rhythmic tale. First and most memorable, Solo contains original songs for the audio with lyrics by Kwame Alexander and Mary Hess and guitar by Randy Preston. Each time in the book when Solo breaks out into song, Alexander and Preston belt out an original piece of music. Each song is also included in one large track at the end of the story which is helpful if you want to go back and enjoy them. I listened to this book on Audible, but it didn’t come with a PDF of the lyrics which would have been some great additional bonus material. But all and all: this an unique treat for audio listeners and something that doesn’t come across on the written page.

Alexander’s poetic writing also feels made for the audio format. Alexander does read with a passion and commitment that can be inviting. His words flow smoothly into one another and you can hardly tell when one poem begins and another ends. Though this type of delivery can be a negative for some listeners. I distinctly remember a discussion on the Odyssey committee about the listener needing to be able to imagine the structure of poem when read out loud. I personally didn’t feel this way and thought that was too subjective standard to achieve, but it is something that comes up for the Odyssey judges.

Although Alexander does also modulate the tones of characters’ voices and give them accents, I never felt I could totally get lost in story. That could be because I found most of the music mentioned throughout the book a little too Dad rock-y and better suited for middle schooler than YA crowd. But as the book ended, I found myself wishing for a narrator with stronger acting chops.  

That said, this text is really one best enjoyed in audio format and the inclusion of original music is a one-kind-of element that could set it apart in the Odyssey discussions.

Solo, by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess, narrated by Kwame Alexander with original music by Randy Preston. 4 hours and 1 minute. Blink.

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