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Bronx Masquerade

Bronx Masquerade

4.2 122
by Nikki Grimes

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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,


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.
Grimes uses 18 young people to tell this story of a class of teenagers in the Bronx who come to know and understand one another better through poetry. This format is now not so unusual, this interweaving of multiple voices, with poetry advancing the narrative. Grimes is a poet and an educator herself, crucial skills for creating this story. Through the chorus of voices, a story emerges of a class of not very successful students whose teacher inspires them to write poetry and share their work once a month in an open mike forum. As each student reads a poem, others see that person in a new light and relationships evolve, self-confidence grows, people change. It's the truth telling as much as the poetry itself that evokes these changes. Grimes is adept at introducing people through their essays and their poetry and connecting the next voice to what has come before. This is a multicultural class, mostly from poor families, so the voices tell of hardship mostly, of struggling to belong, to fit in, to be somebody. As other students hear of the struggle of a fellow student, the sense of belonging grows and the poetry moves them all. The culmination of their class experience comes when a local newspaper covers one of their open mike sessions and an article appears about them, "Student Poets Bloom in the Bronx," which makes them all proud. That's ultimately what this book is about, developing students' pride in themselves and their potential, helping them to communicate among themselves and in the wider world of their families and community. Recommended for junior and senior high school students. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; KLIATT
Children's Literature
Nikki Grimes tells the story of eighteen high school students in the Bronx who discover a love for poetry during a unit on the Harlem Renaissance in English class. The students come from diverse backgrounds, and each struggles with issues of being different. Mr. Ward, the English teacher, decides to start Open Mike Fridays in their English class so that the students can read their own poetry. A different character narrates each chapter of the book, and that character's poem usually follows the narrative. Tyrone, the student whose talent for poetry prompts Mr. Ward to start Open Mike Fridays, often provides a response to the other students' poetry. As the story progresses from various first person perspectives, the reader learns about the characters' background. The poetry also acts as a way for the characters to express themselves publicly, and gradually the students realize that they have really misjudged their classmates. As the characters gain an understanding of one another, they see that they all experience the same feelings of insecurity and fear of the future no matter what their race, height, or hair color. Grimes captures the story in a lyrical language that young adults will recognize and enjoy, and the insertion of the poetry gives each character a distinct, yet universal, voice. 2002, Dial Books, Ages 12 up.
—Amanda Eron
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. (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; . Reviewer: Beth Gilbert SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
School Library Journal
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.
Kirkus Reviews
This is almost like a play for 18 voices, as Grimes (Stepping Out with Grandma Mac 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.
From the Publisher
"All of the [students], 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.  Rich and complex."- Kirkus Reviews

"As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they're looking for-real characters who show them they are not alone." - School Library Journal

"Readers will enjoy the lively, smart voices that talk bravely, about real issues and secret fears.  A fantastic choice."-Booklist

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.60(d)
670L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 16 Years

Read an Excerpt

Wesley “Bad Boy” Boone

I ain’t particular about doing homework, you understand. My teachers practically faint whenever I turn something in. Matter of fact, I probably got the longest list of excuses for missing homework of anyone alive. Except for my homey Tyrone. He tries to act like he’s not even interested in school, like there’s no point in studying hard, or dreaming about tomorrow, or bothering to graduate. He’s got his reasons. I keep on him about going to school, though, saying I need the company. Besides, I tell him, if he drops out and gets a J.O.B., he won’t have any time to work on his songs. That always gets to him. Tyrone might convince everybody else that he’s all through with dreaming, but I know he wants to be a big hip-hop star. He’s just afraid he won’t live long enough to do it. Me, I hardly ever think about checking out. I’m more worried about figuring what I want to do if I live.

Anyway, I haven’t had to drag Tyrone off to school lately, or make excuses for not having my homework done, because I’ve been doing it. It’s the Harlem Renaissance stuff that’s got us both going.

We spent a month reading poetry from the Harlem Renaissance in our English class. Then Mr. Ward—that’s our teacher—asked us to write an essay about it. Make sense to you? Me neither. I mean, what’s the point of studying poetry and then writing essays? So I wrote a bunch of poems instead. They weren’t too shabby, considering I’d only done a few rap pieces before. My favorite was about Langston Hughes. How was I to know Teach would ask me to read it out loud? But I did. Knees knocking like a skeleton on Halloween, embarrassment bleaching my black cheeks red, eyes stapled to the page in front of me. But I did it, I read my poem.

Guess what. Nobody laughed. In fact, everybody thought it was cool. By the time I got back to my seat, other kids were shouting: “Mr. Ward, I got a poem too. Can I bring it in to read?”

Teach cocked his head to the side, like he was hearing something nobody else did. “How many people here have poems they’d like to read?” he asked. Three hands shot up. Mr. Ward rubbed his chin for a minute. “Okay,” he said. “Bring them with you tomorrow.”

After class Teach came over to my desk. “Great poem,” said Mr. Ward. “But I still expect to see an essay from you. I’ll give you another week.” So much for creative expression.

Long Live Langston by Wesley Boone

Trumpeter of Lenox and 7th through Jesse B. Semple,
you simply celebrated
Blues and Be-bop and being Black before it was considered hip.
You dipped into the muddy waters of the Harlem River and shouted “taste and see”
that we Black folk be good at fanning hope and stoking the fires of dreams deferred.
You made sure the world heard about the beauty of maple sugar children, and the artfully tattooed backs of Black sailors venturing out to foreign places.
Your “Sweet Flypaper of Life”
led us past the Apollo and on through 125th and all the other
Harlem streets you knew like the black of your hand.
You were a pied-piper, brother man with poetry as your flute.
It’s my honor and pleasure to salute
You, a true Renaissance man of Harlem.

Tyrone Bittings

School ain’t nothin’ but a joke. My moms don’t want to hear that, but if it weren’t for Wesley and my other homeys, I wouldn’t even be here, aiight? These white folk talking ’bout some future, telling me I need to be planning for some future—like I got one! And Raynard agreeing, like he’s smart enough to know. From what I hear, that boy can’t hardly read! Anyway, it’s them white folk that get me with all this future mess. Like Steve, all hopped up about working on Broadway and telling me I should think about getting with it too. Asked me if I ever thought about writing plays. “Fool! What kinda question is that?” I said. He threw his hands up and backed off a few steps. “All I’m saying is, you’re a walking drama, man. You got that down pat, so maybe you should think about putting it on paper.” When that boy dyed his hair, I b’lieve some of that bleach must’ve seeped right into his brain. I grind my teeth and lower my voice. “Boy, get out my face,” I tell him. He finally gets the message and splits. I’m ticked off that he even got me thinking about such nonsense as Broadway.

White folk! Who they think they kidding? They might as well go blow smoke up somebody else’s you-know-what, ’cause a Black man’s got no chance in this country. I be lucky if I make it to twenty-one with all these fools running round with AK-47s. Here I am one of the few kids I know whose daddy didn’t skip out on him, and he didn’t even make it to thirty. He was doing okay ’til he got blown away on a Saturday. Blam! Another statistic in a long line of drive-bys. Life is cold. Future? What I got is right now, right here, spending time with my homeys. Wish there was some future to talk about. I could use me some future.

I’m just about ready to sleep off the whole year when this teacher starts talking about poetry. And he rattles off a poem by some white guy named Dylan Thomas that sounds an awful lotlike rap. Now I know me some rap, and I start to thinking I should show Mr. Ward what rap is really all about. So I tell him I’ve got a poem I’d like to read. “Bring it on Friday,” he says. “As a matter of fact, from now on, I’ll leave time for poetry readings at the end of every month. We’ll call them Open Mike Fridays.” Next thing I know, I’m digging my old rap poems out of my dresser drawer and bringing them to school. I’m thinking it can’t hurt to share them, even if there’s no chance I’ll ever get to be a songwriter. After all, it’s the one thing I could see myself doing if there really was a future. And I’m thinking that maybe there could be if I wanted it bad enough. And all of a sudden, I realize I do.


Attendance by Tyrone Bittings

We are all here
Leslie and Bad Boy, Lupe and Raul,
Here, here and here.
Dear Mr. Ward with his wards and wardettes.
Let’s have a show of hands today.
Is Porscha here? Is Diondra here?
Where oh where is Sheila?
It’s me, Tyrone,
up here all alone rapping into a microphone
’cause I’ve got something to say:
MTV is here, Mir and morning space-walks are here,
Terrorism is here lurking at the bus stop can’t hop on the subway without thinkin’ of Tokyo—
we all know poison gas does not discriminate.
It’s too late to worry about my innocence since fear is here.
Why is it a weekend visit to your local Mickey D’s may be deadly?
Why hasn’t somebody censored death?
Don’t hold your breath waiting.
Still you can chill and celebrate all that’s great about life, like music and the tick-tick-tick of time which is equal parts yours and mine to make of the world what we will.
But first, say no to coke, and smoke.
Say no to police brutality and causing fatality.
Say no to race hate.
Don’t underestimate the power of love.
But most of all take two poems and call me in the morning.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"All of the [students], 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. Rich and complex."- Kirkus Reviews

"As always, Grimes gives young people exactly what they're looking for-real characters who show them they are not alone." - School Library Journal

"Readers will enjoy the lively, smart voices that talk bravely, about real issues and secret fears. A fantastic choice."-Booklist

Meet the Author

Nikki Grimes is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of dozens of children’s and young adult books as well as a poet and journalist.
Among the many accolades she has received are the Golden Dolphin Award (2005),the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children (2006), the Coretta Scott King Award (2003) for Bronx Masquerade, and the Horace Mann Upstanders Award (2011) for Almost Zero: A Dyamonde Daniel Book. Additionally, her book Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope (illustrated by Bryan Collier) was a New York Times bestseller, and she was acknowledged as an NAACP Image Award Finalist in 1993 for her book Malcolm X: a Force for Change. Her books Meet Danitra Brown (illustrated by Floyd Cooper), Jazmin's NotebookTalkin' About Bessie (illustrated by E.B. Lewis), Dark Sons, The Road to Paris, and Words with Wings were each awarded Coretta Scott King Honors. Visit her online at www.nikkigrimes.com.

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Bronx Masquerade 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 122 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first book of Nikki Grimes' that I have ever read and I loved it. "Bronx Masquerade" gives teens like me, a whole new perspective on not only the importance and enjoyment of literature and poetry but also the identities of individuals in a diverse society. The fact that this book is writen by teen's thoughts about themselves and others and the pomes they create in response to these thoughts really capture your attention. Each of the 18 students learns something about himself that changes his perspective about his future. A young black teenager who sees no future for himself in a community where guns and violence have taken over suddenly realizes he has a passion for words. A chubby teenage girl notices that her friends no long pay attention to the way she looks because they have become so immersed in her beautiful poetry. All of this comes from writing poems and reading them in front of the class on what their teacher calls Open Mike Friday. The poems these students "write" are so creative and really make this book quite unique. I could not put it down because I was so eager to read how these people living their everyday lives in the slums, were going to write about their lives in the ghetto. This book shows us that they are allowed to different and they are allowed to be smart. It's ok to want to read and do well in school. I think that any teen that is interested in poetry, or rap for that matter, even in the slightest should read this book. I am truly inspired.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm in loved with this book. My name is Ny'Dya and one of my teachers told me to read this book, it's really good but it's also hard to read, For my level. The poems sometimes makes you want to cry. They are so good, they tell you what's going on with them and why is it happening. I don't like to read to be for real, but this book changed my mind about that!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Juu r so immature its sad that u talk like a childu stupid homie :/
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was different from most books I read because its written in different pov's and poetry. But I enjoyed it because it was about how you can rise above your problems, even if your problems are serious ones, and change your circumstances and your life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Someone bought this for me and i dont know how i got it. Weird. Otherwise, somewhat a good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Daaaaamn tyrone do me like tht
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about students writting poems and reading them on open mike Fridays. Tyrone tells his feelings about other students when they're done reading their poems. My favorite episode is when tyrone speaks his mind about everything. Tyrone tells his feelings about every person that makes a poem. (If you like this book you will like, Planet Middle School).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bronx Masquerade has all different things to make a teen book like good details and explains what characters look like. Everyone in this book has problems from parent problems to school bullies. They tell about their life then follow up by reading a poem. Sterling S. Hughes hugs a bully then the bully goes off. Sterling is a part of Mr.Wards English class. If you like Miracles Boys, you will like this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is really good i like it
Aaron0596 More than 1 year ago
This book was not what I had expected. I thought that this book would be about drugs and violence. And im glad that it wasnt, I actually enjoyed certain things about the book. And the book taught me a couple of things about myself, I should be more accepting and open to hearing about other peoples lives. Because sometimes I can be closed off, I did like this book and I highly recommend it for others as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thus is a really goos book. It is really good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the book more than I thought I would. I do not really like Tyrone, he always has something to say. But, everyones just trying to fit in, I love the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such an amazimg book. Very relatible. Great read when you feel down at times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It was very interesting. I liked how i could lmost connect with the characters. I also liked how tyrone shared his thoughts about each persons poem. The book was emotional i felt mad when chankara talked about her boyfriend beatting her up and i felt angry with the boyfriend for doing this even thiugh he is not real. I was sad when i read lupes story. And when i read glorias i felt lucky for my life. Thank you karen for making us read this!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im reading this book now for la and i love it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book opens your eyes to the children living in the Bronx. It tells the story in a form of poetry. the characters make you laugh,cry,and think. IT is suprisingly realistic and tells an amazing story. I would recommend this to absolutely ANYONE.