Baby and Solo

Candlewick. May 2021. 416p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781536213034.
Gr 9 Up–In the mid-1990s, Joel Teague, at the behest of his psychiatrist, takes on a new job: video rental store clerk. ROYO Video, where all employees go by movie character names, is a fresh start: he’s now dubbed Solo and his coworkers don’t know about “The Bad Thing That Happened.” While Joel proves to be a dutiful worker and tries to keep everyone at arms’ length, he still connects to Scarlet, Poppins, Maverick, The Godfather, and particularly Baby. Baby—Nikki—is abrasive yet vulnerable, and is also hiding a secret. Their friendship centers the story and has its ups and downs as they learn more about each other and their situations. Tough issues, such as mental illness, divorce, homophobia, and emotionally abusive family members, are explored with nuance and empathy. There are moments of lightheartedness too, such as movie discussions and a Secret Santa exchange, which make the novel well-rounded and heartfelt. Baby and Solo are white, and their coworkers have a variety of backgrounds.
VERDICT A strong addition to high school libraries, as it gracefully handles mental health and demonstrates a strong, platonic friendship.

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