Baby & Solo by Lisabeth Posthuma

Baby & Solo by Lisabeth Posthuma, Candlewick, 9781536213034, 2021 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book?  This beautiful, sad, and funny book unfurls slowly. It’s the ’90s and 17-year-old Joel, recently arrived from Virginia,  just got a job at ROYO, a video rental store in Royal Oak, Michigan.  Through Joel’s first-person narration, we learn that his family is starting over, after The Bad Thing That Happened, which put Joel into a mental health tailspin. Now he’s homeschooling with a tutor, seeing his shrink and trying to get his life back. Everyone at ROYO takes a movie character alias so he’s Solo (as in Han) and his intriguing and angry co-worker is Baby (as in, no one puts Baby in the corner).  Joel longs for a real friend but can’t bring himself to open up to Baby about What Was Wrong With Me, even though Baby soon reveals that she’s got her own really big problem: she’s pregnant. Joel’s also haunted by glimpses of Crystal, who materializes whenever she wants. Joel knows she’s not real, but her presence comforts him. 

Posthuma really takes her time as she digs into a complex but delicate story. She puts a tremendous amount of energy into setting; the ROYO becomes a character in the book, complete with its own quirks and strengths. Solo & Baby’s ROYO co-workers are interesting and diverse, without demanding too much attention and stealing the spotlight. Joel’s parents similarly have a lot of texture, with his mom exuding toxicity while his dad ends up offering fumbling but genuine support. I loved that the main story was about a friendship, not a romance. The revelations that come toward the end of the book are surprising but believable and I definitely had an “aha!” moment once everything clicked into place. Posthuma provides a list of mental health resources at the end of the book. Joel and Baby and their families are White, while two of the ROYO co-workers are BIPOC.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I have no background in teen mental health, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Posthuma’s depiction of Joel’s condition or his therapeutic regime. Spoiler alert: a sequence in which Joel takes Baby to get an abortion ends in Baby pretending she’s had the procedure, but actually deciding to continue the pregnancy. This is an important element of the plot, but her decision and behavior didn’t make sense to me. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  Fans of John Green and David Yoon, grades 9 and up. Also great for movie buffs who think the decade between 1980-1990 were the bomb. It’s so cinemagraphic that I kept thinking about its suitability for the screen.

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes. Have a box of kleenex nearby.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 19, 2021

This entry was posted in *Book Review, *Starred Review, Lisabeth Posthuma, Mental Health, Pregnancy, Realistic fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.