Bronx Masquerade

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Bronx Masquerade Book Poster Image
Teens find true selves through poetry in heartfelt novel.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Bronx Masquerade explores different types of poetry and exposes students to prominent authors from the Harlem Renaissance. It also teaches about stereotypes -- how they harm people on an individual level and how to get past them using your own voice to define yourself.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about body acceptance, discovering your worth outside of how others define you, how to use poetry and creative outlets in general to convey hard-to-express feelings, ideas, and opinions.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The English teacher affectionately named "Teach," provides a safe space for students to create and challenge each other without inserting himself as their savior. Janelle reads her poem about how it feels to be overweight and deal with the bullying of her classmates, and her raw honesty not only gives other students the courage to "speak their truth" but also changes the way students -- Tyrone in particular -- view their treatment of her. Tyrone as the de facto leader learns and shares with the entire class how the poetry group created a bond that focused on the students' similarities rather than their differences, which mirrors the experiences of others in the group.

Violence

Several students are abused, one by her boyfriend two others by their parents. There is a heavy overlay of fear that students won't live long enough to reach adulthood because of violence and crime in the area. One student's father is described as being killed in a drive-by, another student describes how police brutality is an ever-present threat. A student describes seeing her sister come home repeatedly with bruises from being beaten by her boyfriend. The same student was hit by a boyfriend as well, and the black eye is described in detail.

Sex

A teen describes wanting to get pregnant so she could have someone to love. Another teen is shown as having a baby and struggling with balancing school and being a mom. Girls talk about being harassed by boys through "nasty talk" and harassed on the street by grown men. One teen boy tries to force a teen girl into having sex; she resists and kicks him out after he hits her. There are instances of typical high school boy-girl crushes.

Language

Mild name-calling like "fat," "white boy" etc. 

Consumerism

Vague mention of brands like McDonald's rap artist Heavy D, etc., for scene setting.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults are described as being addicts to both drugs and alcohol. A parent's death from overdose discussed. Teen is pressured by friends to become a drug dealer. One teen talks about being careful when he walks so he doesn't fall on broken alcohol bottles or hypodermic needles left on the ground.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that New York Times Bestselling author Nikki Grimes' award-winning Bronx Masquerade, originally published in 2001, introduces students to poetry as a way to express themselves and shatter stereotypes about themselves and their culture. Grimes published a companion novel, Between the Lines, in February 2018, but the books can be read independently. Parents should be prepared to talk about modern issues teens face, including body acceptance, street and police violence, media stereotypes, street harassment, sexuality, family issues, and the tough transition from kid to adult.

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What's the story?

In BRONX MASQUERADE, Tyrone and his classmates learn that behind every label is a real person with a story to tell. When English teacher Mr. Ward starts teaching about the Harlem Renaissance, particularly the poets of the Renaissance, one by one the students drop their labels and share what's in their hearts, including Tyrone. For the first time in his life Tyrone thinks about a future that doesn't include dying young. Lupe yearns for a baby so someone will love her, Gloria is coping with how to be a student and a mom, Janelle is trying to hide her weight and worry from the eyes of everyone around her, and Raynard has a big secret -- and it's not what everyone thinks. Each of these students and several others find something special in poetry. But is it what they need?

Is it any good?

Thrilling, fast-paced, and heartfelt, this novel shows that with the right opportunity, students can take power over stereotypes and show who they truly are to themselves, one another, and the world. Author Nikki Grimes creates a moving snapshot of several students as we follow them through their exploration and discovery of poetry. These are normal kids with real-world problems who are learning how to navigate societal, family, and self-esteem issues. Grimes brings them into the reader's living room and makes readers fall in love with them. Grimes' poetry shows rather than tells the story, and that makes Bronx Masquerade a remarkable, heartwarming read.

The book's pacing and subject matter makes it great for reluctant readers, as well. Parents and teachers will love the opportunity to discuss historical and current poets of note.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the students in Bronx Masquerade challenge stereotypes perpetuated by the media. Do you notice stereotypes in the movies, books, and news you consume? How do you deal with them?

  • In the book Tyrone uses poetry to work through his feelings, and Raul and Diondra use art. What do you use?

  • Before they joined the poetry group, some of the students were considered "enemies," but once they got to know each other that all changed. Have you ever thought a schoolmate was one way -- stuck up, a jock, etc. -- and learned something completely different about that person after getting to know him or her?

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