Reviews for Bronx Masquerade


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 February 2002
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. ((Reviewed February 15, 2002)) Copyright 2002 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2002 Fall
When Wesley writes a poem for English class instead of the assigned essay, he jump-starts Open Mike Fridays in his Bronx high school. Grimes creates a montage of eighteen voices who share a sense of isolation and yearning to belong. Whether their poems--one of which concludes each brief first-person prose piece--are in rap, free verse, or rhyme, these kids surprise one another in part with how much they are alike. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2002 #2
When Wesley writes a poem for English class instead of the assigned essay on the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, he jump-starts what become known as Open Mike Fridays in his Bronx high school. Soon he and seventeen other students are getting in touch with themselves and their classmates through these readings. A poet herself, author Grimes creates a montage of voices whose commonality rests in their sense of isolation and yearning to belong. Whether their poems-one of which concludes each brief first-person prose piece-are in rap, free verse, or conscious rhyme, these kids surprise one another in part with how much they are alike. In shared pain and need, they all become poets; as readers, we want to believe their individual poetic gifts, even as we hear Grimes's considerable talent behind theirs. Wesley's "homey" Tyrone, whose voice acts as binding commentary for them all, asserts, "The world ain't but one big surprise after another." The title of the book comes from basketball star Devon Hope's poem "Bronx Masquerade" in which he challenges his classmates "to peep / behind these eyes, discover the poet / in tough-guy disguise. / Don't call me Jump Shot. / My name is Surprise." Grimes reinforces her theme of discovery with white outsider Leslie Lucas, who felt banished to the Bronx after the death of her mom from cancer and who now feels part of a community: "I hardly knew anybody in this school at all. Big surprise." Latina Lupe Algarin, who sees a dead end to her life unless she gets pregnant like her sister, opens up in her poem to "a pale-skinned surprise / a friend" and ends the year knowing she will go to college. Grimes asks a lot of poetry in this short, fast-paced novel: within a year these eighteen kids have allowed poetry to turn them into a family and to turn them around. Perhaps unduly optimistic, the book nevertheless succeeds because it makes us want the best for these voices so clearly heard. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 2001 November #1
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) Copyright Kirkus 2001 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2001 December #3
When a high school teacher in the Bronx begins to host open-mike poetry in his classroom on Fridays, his students find a forum to express their identity issues and forge unexpected connections with one another. Grimes's (Jazmin's Notebook) creative, contemporary premise will hook teens, and the poems may even inspire readers to try a few of their own. The poetic forms range from lyrics penned by aspiring rapper Tyrone to the concrete poem of a budding Puerto Rican painter Raul (titled "Zorro" and formed as the letter "Z"). Ultimately, though, there may be too many characters for the audience to penetrate deeply. The students in Mr. Ward's English class experience everything from dyslexia and low self-esteem to teenage motherhood and physical abuse. The narrators trade off quickly, offering only a glimpse into their lives. Not even Tyrone, who breaks in after each student's poem to offer some commentary, comes fully to life. The students' poems, however, provide some lasting images (e.g., overweight Janelle, who is teased for her "thick casing," writes, "I am coconut,/ and the heart of me/ is sweeter/ than you know"). Any one of these students could likely dominate a novel of his or her own, they simply get too little time to hold the floor here. Ages 12-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2003 December #4
A high school teacher in the Bronx hosts open-mike poetry in his classroom, and his students forge unexpected connections with one another. "The creative, contemporary premise will hook teens, and the poems may even inspire readers to try a few of their own," wrote PW. Ages 12-up. (Dec.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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SL Reviews 2002 January
Gr 8 Up-A flowing, rhythmic portrait of the diversity and individuality of teen characters in a classroom in Anywhere, U.S.A. Each teen's story is told by combining his or her poetry with snippets of narration. Readers meet Tyrone, an aspiring songwriter who sees no use for school; Lupe, who thinks that becoming a mother would give her the love she lacks in her life; and Janelle, who is struggling with her body image. As their stories unfold and intertwine with those of their classmates, readers are able to observe changes in them and watch the group evolve into a more cohesive unit. Grimes's style is reminiscent of Mel Glenn's poetry novels, but by telling these stories in both poetry and narration, the author adds a new twist. Competent and reluctant readers alike will recognize and empathize with these teens. As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they're looking for-real characters who show them they are not alone.-Lynn Evarts, Sauk Prairie High School, Prairie du Sac, WI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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VOYA Reviews 2002 February
Mr. Ward's English class is unlike any his students have experienced before. In his inner city Bronx, New York, high school classroom, Mr. Ward takes his eighteen students into the personal, heartfelt world of writing poetry during their study of the Harlem Renaissance. Each chapter is told by a different teen, allowing readers insight into the teens' feelings about themselves and their classmates through beautifully crafted poems that they share on Open Mike Fridays. Devon Hope writes, "Maybe it's time I just started being who I am." This honest admission is just one of many that the characters make. What begins with eighteen disjointed people becomes a newfound family, united in compassion and camaraderie against a backdrop of broken homes, peer pressure, and tumultuous relationships. Readers will become immersed in the lives of these students with their natural teen-speak: "And guess what? That white boy can flow. Makes you kinda wonder 'bout his family tree, now don't it?" Grimes addresses many of today's teen issues through the characters' unforgettable voices and poems. In the spirit of Gil Alicea's memoir The Air Down Here (Chronicle, 1995), this book will be an exciting addition to urban public and school libraries and will serve well in teen poetry classes, speaking to the poet in every teen who picks it up.-Beth Gilbert. 5Q 5P J S Copyright 2002 Voya Reviews

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