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A Solitary Blue is an important, realistic novel that deals with the complex problems of family relationships. With a keen yet sympathetic eye, Cynthia Voigt looks at the dysfunctional Greene family: a timid and remote father, a self-centered and restless mother, and a confused and lonely son. The theme of abandonment drives this novel, but subthemes stress the value of solitude, commitment, friendship, and resilience. A Solitary Blue is significant for young adult readers because it confronts vital issues, such as independence, academic achievement, and mental illness; it is a memorable book because of Voigt’s precise and powerful writing.

Abandonment is a frequent theme in young adult literature. Formula fiction regularly gets rid of the parents so that the young person will be the focus of all the action and accomplishments of the book; unlike such formula fiction, A Solitary Blue explores in depth the effects of abandonment, both profound and subtle, on the development of Jeff Greene and his interaction with his parents. As Jeff grows and gains self-reliance, his perceptions of his parents also sharpen. He realizes that Melody deserves neither the adoration that he felt as a young child nor the contempt that he felt five years later when she abandoned him a second time to follow her own whims. “Poor Melody,” he thinks to himself with more compassion than anger. Jeff also changes his perception of his father, appreciating the Professor’s intelligence and commitment. Gradually, as Jeff comes to value him more, his father’s inner qualities surface to reveal a kind and generous man with a wry sense of humor. He, too, has been wounded by Melody; together, he and Jeff learn to rise above their pain and find pleasure in the world.

Beginning with the title and continuing throughout the book, the theme of solitude is explored. Jeff is left alone much of the time even before Melody deserts him because she is self-absorbed and the Professor habitually retreats to his office. Jeff learns to be unobtrusive and apologetic. The first words that he speaks when dealing with adults are often “I’m sorry.” Yet, solitude also offers solace. Jeff is at peace with himself when he rows through the marshes around Charleston and identifies with the lone blue heron. He draws close to nature during the solitary times that he spends at home on the Eastern Shore.

Music and water serve as recurring metaphors in the novel. Jeff loves to hear Melody play the guitar and sing when he visits her in Charleston. The name Melody itself reminds the reader of the connection that Jeff has with his mother and with music. Music also breaks down the barrier between Jeff and his father when the Professor, prompted perhaps by the wise Brother Thomas, takes Jeff to a concert, encourages his guitar lessons, and gives Jeff a fine Martin guitar as a Christmas present. It is music that initially attracts Dicey to Jeff. When she hears him playing his guitar outside the school building, “she didn’t want to be drawn over to him, but she couldn’t do anything to stop herself.” Music is a metaphor for Jeff’s reaching out to other people. Water is the second metaphor that reveals characters. In order to push away his feelings of rejection when Melody ignores him, Jeff rows to a remote island in a patched-up boat. Dicey and Jeff discover freedom and profound friendship when they are sailing together.

Young adult readers will recognize the truth to be found in A Solitary Blue. Voigt renders realistic dialogue and believable people in often-powerful writing. Subtle irony is another strong point of the novel. For example, when Melody puts Jeff on the bus without any money for meals, he in fact becomes one of the “starving children” that she so grandly wants to save. Yet, the authenticity and irony do not preclude an optimistic, upbeat conclusion. The novel leaves readers eager for further encounters with these memorable characters.

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Critical Context