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
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.
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)
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.
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.
"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