HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: A Solitary Blue
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Illustrator: Mick Wiggins
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, reprinted 2012
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 12 and up, but I would say 16 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Voigt, Cynthia. A Solitary Blue (published in 1983 by Atheneum Publishers, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Company, 866 Third Ave., New York City, NY 10022; republished in 1993 by Scholastic Inc., 730 Broadway, New York City, NY 10008). Jefferson (Jeff, though his mother calls him Jeffie) Greene lives in Baltimore, MD, with his rather reserved, undemonstrative father Horace, a university history professor to whom everyone, except Horace’s friend and fellow teacher Brother Thomas, refers simply as “The Professor.” Jeff goes to the University School, run by the university where his father teaches, and is an average student. Back when he was seven and a half, in second grade, his environmentalist mother Melody up and left the family one day, returning permanently to her hometown of Charleston, SC. Then when Jeff is twelve years old, he receives an invitation to spend the summer with his mother who now lives with her own grandmother Mrs. Melville, whom everyone identifies as Gambo, on the old Boudrault estate, along with a couple of elderly cousins known as “the aunts,” and a housekeeper Mrs. Opal Carter. At first, Jeff finds that he likes Melody. for her free spirit and seeming warmth But how has her absence all those year affected him? What is his reaction to the way that she treats him now? And can he really trust her?
This book won a Newbery Honor award in 1984, and is identified as “Book 3 of 7 in the Tillerman Family Cycle Series.” In the first book of the cycle, Homecoming (1981), the four Tillerman children search for a new home after they are abandoned by their emotionally ill mother, eventually settling in with their grandmother (“Gram”) on a stark homestead in Crisfield, MD, on the Chesapeake Bay. The second book, Dicey’s Song (1982), in which Dicey Tillerman is confused about where she fits into the family now that Gram has taken over responsibility for the youngsters, but soon learns that the family still needs her resourcefulness and solid good sense, won the Newbery Medal in 1983. A Solitary Blue covers events in the life of Jeff Greene, Dicey’s love interest. I don’t know about the others, but this story is very psychological and may be beyond many younger readers. My take on its receiving the Newbery Honor is that it was written after the watershed 1960s, when the criteria basically changed from being “good” to being “relevant.” Instead of normal, even godly, families facing challenges and learning how to solve problems, as happened in older books, more modern, “relevant” children’s literature has to have dysfunctional families learning just how to live with their dysfunctions. My big question about this book is, “Why?” Why would any young person want to read it? And if I can’t answer that question, I have to wonder why anyone would want to write it The only reason that I can see is to explain the background of Dicey’s boyfriend in Dicey’s Song.
As to its suitability for the targeted age group (beginning with age twelve), you can decide. There are copious instances of drinking wine, including by Jeff. The name of God and the term “hell” are used as interjections, and references are made to “peeing.” The grandson of the housekeeper Miss Opal is in jail for selling marijuana. Jeff is told that his mother had become pregnant with him before she married his father. We also learn that Dicey’s father never married her mother and left the family before her youngest brother Sammy was born. One good thing that I noticed is that the one religious figure, Brother Thomas, is pictured as a stabilizing and beneficial influence rather than a wild-eyed, fanatical wacko. One reviewer said that it is fairly heady reading with some pretty mature topics like parental abandonment, drug use, and mental illness. Another noted, ”It’s rich in emotion, too much so for my tastes. It reads, as is usually the case with Voigt, like a thoughtful romance novel for teens.” The sequels are The Runner (1985), about Samuel “Bullet” Tillerman, Gram’s son and the children’s uncle before any of the other books in the series; Come a Stranger (1986), which covers events in the life of Wilhemina Smiths, Dicey’s best friend; Sons from Afar (1987), in which James enlists his brother Sammy’s help to find Francis Verricker, who may be the father who deserted them long ago; and Seventeen Against the Dealer (1989), which resumes Dicey’s life story.