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Bronx MasqueradeReview - Bronx Masquerade
by Nikki Grimes
Dial Books, 2002
Review by Debbie Ripley
Aug 5th 2003 (Volume 7, Issue 32)

Who am I, really? Who do I want to be?† How can I get people to accept the real me, once I know who the real me is? These are all questions tackled in Nikki Grimes' novel Bronx Masquerade. It is a book about identity, at least the on-going search for it by a group of teenage students. The setting is a high school in the Bronx, which is made up of predominately African American and Hispanic kids. The story is told from the perspectives of eighteen different students in Mr. Ward's class.

It all begins when a student in the class, Wesley, decides to write a poem instead of an essay about the assigned topic, the Harlem Renaissance. This is the beginning of "Open Mike Fridays."† On "Open Mike Fridays" Mr. Ward invites his students to read their poems aloud to the class.† As the book progresses, more and more students begin to bring poems in to read. Each chapter begins with a narrative by one of the students and ends with a poem they have written. These mini autobiographies often contain information about the student's family and the many problems they face as teenagers. Each narrative seems to have the same central theme: the desire to be understood and accepted.

Nikki Grimes, the author of Bronx Masquerade, has written numerous young adult novels, children's picture book stories, and poetry books. But she considers herself first and foremost a poet.† The poems are a very important aspect to the story.† Grimes does a beautiful job weaving these poems into the book, so that they become another bridge to understanding the characters.

For example, one character that appears in the book several times is Devon. He is a super basketball player, but his aspirations extend far beyond sports. He struggles with the cool jock versus smart nerd dilemma.† In one of his poems he tries to come to terms with the yin and yang of his identity.† He writes, " I woke up this morning/ exhausted from hiding the me of me/ so I stand here confiding/ there's more to Devon, than jump shot and rim/ I'm more than tall and lengthy of limp./ I dare you to peep behind these eyes/ discover the poet in tough guy disguise./ Don't call me Jump Shot./ My name is Surprise."

The book has eighteen different students. Without pencil and paper, it is virtually impossible to keep track of so many characters. There is Gloria, the unwed mother at the tender age of sixteen; Leslie, whose mother died of a drug overdose; Diondra, the tallest girl in the school, fighting her father's desire for her to become a basketball player; Raynard, the dyslexic musician; Chankara, who is beaten by a boyfriend; and on the list goes. Of course, with so many characters it is impossible to get to know any one of them very well. Although perhaps the writer's point was to show many different kinds of students so that teenage readers could identify with someone in the book.

The reader comes away from Bronx Masquerade with several nagging thoughts. First, would high school students really expose their souls in a classroom full of their peers, even through the guise of a poem? And, even with this extensive array of characters, are they all a bit too stereotyped? Also, the absence of any profanity in the book from these high school students does take away a bit of its authenticity. However, the book is told from an interesting perspective and the poems are beautiful and insightful.

 

© 2003 Debbie Ripley

 

Debbie Ripley teaches Reading and Language Arts in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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