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Bronx masquerade
Book
2001
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Trade Reviews

  Booklist Review

Gr. 7-12. Tyrone Bittings doesn't believe in a future: "Life is cold . . . What I've got is right here, right now, with my homeys." But an English-class open mike changes everything. Grimes' first novel since Jazmin's Notebook (1998) comprises brief monologues in the voices of students and their poems. Funny and painful, awkward and abstract, the poems talk about race, abuse, parental love, neglect, death, and body image ("Don't any of these girls like the way they look?" asks Tyrone). Most of all, they try to reveal the individuals beyond the stereotypes. With such short vignettes, the characters are never fully realized, and the message about poetry's ability to move beyond color and cultural boundaries is anything but subtle. Even so, readers will enjoy the lively, smart voices that talk bravely about real issues and secret fears. A fantastic choice for readers' theater. --Gillian Engberg

  Kirkus Review

This is almost like a play for 18 voices, as Grimes (Stepping Out with Grandma Mac, not reviewed, etc.) moves her narration among a group of high school students in the Bronx. The English teacher, Mr. Ward, accepts a set of poems from Wesley, his response to a month of reading poetry from the Harlem Renaissance. Soon there's an open-mike poetry reading, sponsored by Mr. Ward, every month, and then later, every week. The chapters in the students' voices alternate with the poems read by that student, defiant, shy, terrified. All of them, black, Latino, white, male, and female, talk about the unease and alienation endemic to their ages, and they do it in fresh and appealing voices. Among them: Janelle, who is tired of being called fat; Leslie, who finds friendship in another who has lost her mom; Diondra, who hides her art from her father; Tyrone, who has faith in words and in his "moms"; Devon, whose love for books and jazz gets jeers. Beyond those capsules are rich and complex teens, and their tentative reaching out to each other increases as through the poems they also find more of themselves. Steve writes: "But hey! Joy / is not a crime, though / some people / make it seem so." At the end of the term, a new student who is black and Vietnamese finds a morsel of hope that she too will find a place in the poetry. (Fiction. 12-15)
Summary
When Wesley Boone writes a poem for his high school English class, some of his classmates clamor to read their poems aloud too. Soon they're having weekly poetry sessions and, one by one, the eighteen students are opening up and taking on the risky challenge of self-revelation. There's Lupe Alvarin, desperate to have a baby so she will feel loved. Raynard Patterson, hiding a secret behind his silence. Porscha Johnson, needing an outlet for her anger after her mother OD's. Through the poetry they share and narratives in which they reveal their most intimate thoughts about themselves and one another, their words and lives show what lies beneath the skin, behind the eyes, beyond the masquerade.
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