Bronx Masquerade

bronxmasquerade.jpgBronx Masquerade

by Nikki Grimes

From the Author’s website:

I’ve led so many lives, sometimes I feel as though I’m a dozen different people, all rolled into one. I’ve lived in Tanzania and Sweden. I’ve made my home in New York, New Jersey, Washington, and California. I’ve worked as an administrative assistant, financial aid officer, documentary photographer, proofreader, translator, literary consultant, and library assistant. I’ve freelanced for newspapers and magazines, edited books, sung backup for a gospel singer, toured Sweden with my own band, and co-produced radio shows here and abroad. Is it any wonder I’m comfortable creating books in multiple voices? One such book was Bronx Masquerade.

Bronx Masquerade is a novel written in 18 voices. It follows a classroom of high school students over the course of a year, exploring who they are behind the masks they wear, and using poetry to do it.

Bronx has no single main character, in the traditional sense, but there is one character whose point of view is represented throughout: Tyrone Bittings. Tyrone serves as Greek chorus, commenting on every character in the book. He helps the reader connect the dots from character to character and from one subplot to the next. Each character has his own story to tell, but Tyrone is privy to them all.

Review:
From Publishers Weekly
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.

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