Between the Lines

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
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Poetry group helps teens find true selves in moving novel.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows different types of poetry and how poetry can be used to express the sides of personality that people don't see, and to break down the labels teens have to deal with in high school and beyond.

Positive Messages

Tell the truth of who you are, even when it's painful. Life isn't easy just because you're pretty. Think about how similar we are rather than how different. Don't assume you know what people are like; take the time to get to know them. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

As in Bronx Masquerade, here English teacher Mr. Ward supports the students and guides them while also allowing them plenty of room to make mistakes and solve their problems. He steps in when Jenesis reveals she will be homeless soon, once she ages out of the foster care system. He finds her an organization that specializes in transitioning teens into another program. Darrian observes the real needs of the students in his class and tries to help while also being transparent with his own struggles. He befriends his struggling classmates, often serving as a sounding board/shoulder to lean on when they need it. 


Discussion of child abuse by a parent and some of the dangers that foster kids are subjected to when they are in the system. Additionally, a young girl yanks on her niece's arm in frustration and anger and slightly injures the child. She apologizes, recognizing that she needs to control herself so she doesn't end up abusing her niece like she was abused.


Typical mild teen flirting. Some discussion of the threat of sexual violence found in the foster care system. 


Mild name-calling, such as "stupid" or "dumb."


Some brand names mentioned for scene setting. New York Times mentioned because the lead character wants to be a reporter.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Discussion of parents having drinking problems and parents shown drinking in excess, with teens forced to care for them. A child is left in the care of relatives because the mother's a drug addict, though she's not shown taking the drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that New York Times best-selling author Nikki GrimesBetween the Lines is a companion book to her award-winning Bronx Masquerade about a meaningful high school poetry group. It can be read as a standalone, and parents should be prepared to deal with discussions about the foster care system, child abuse, the prison industrial complex, and childhood disease. 

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What's the story?

In BETWEEN THE LINES, Darrin Lopez wants to be a reporter for the New York Times, so when a teacher suggests that he check out poetry, he totally freaks. What does rhyming words have to do with hard news? Joining the poetry group and getting ready for the poetry slam, Darrin learns that not all poems rhyme and that everyone has a story; you just have to listen. Can this newspaper reporter go from writing just the facts to writing the truth of what's in his soul? 

Is it any good?

With new students, old favorites, and an epic poetry slam, this powerful companion book doesn't disappoint as it offers another fun and honest look at teens' lives. Like Bronx Masquerade, it masterfully explores the truth of the lives the teens live using their own poetry as supplements to their personal stories revealed throughout the novel. Nothing is as it seems, and that's what makes Between the Lines work -- because everyone can relate to wearing a mask to face the world. Everyone can relate to being afraid to be judged for revealing who they truly are, especially when the truth is embarrassing, scary, sad, or uncomfortable. The book clearly illustrates the need for a safe space for teens to explore and express themselves as they navigate the transition between adolescence and adulthood. It also reiterates the importance of supportive, stable adults in kids' lives.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how in Between the Lines, Darrin has a huge interest in newspapers. Do you read the news? How do you talk about tough things you read? How do you spot fake news?

  • Families can also talk about foster care and adoption. Do you know anyone who has been in foster care or adopted? What misconceptions do you think people have about foster care? What challenges do adopted and fostered kids face?

  • Families can talk about positive body image. Several kids deal with issues that stem from how people perceive them to be because of their body. Girls who are pretty are assumed not to have any problems. A boy with a heart issue is deemed delicate by his parents. How do you maintain a positive outlook on who you are when faced with messages you get from the media and at home?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love poetry and coming-of-age stories

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