Review of Between the Lines

Between the Lines
by Nikki Grimes
Middle School, High School    Paulsen/Penguin    213 pp.    g
2/18    978-0-399-24688-3    $17.99

“Just step up, step up to the mike / and let your truth fly, loud, / proud, raw.” That’s what students are preparing to do in Mr. Ward’s high school class in the Bronx. Through poetry, they are learning the power of words, preparing for the poetry slam that will be the culmination of their time together (and of the novel). In this companion to Grimes’s Bronx Masquerade (rev. 3/02), which again mixes students’ first-person narratives and their forays into poetry, Mr. Ward’s class becomes a cast of many players, each student given a voice among the multiple points of views woven throughout the story. The first speaker is Darrian Lopez, a Puerto Rican teenager who intends to write for the New York Times because he figures “the only way to get our stories straight is by writing them ourselves.” In Mr. Ward’s class, he not only sharpens his word skills, he learns the stories behinds others’ poetry: the stories of the children of immigrants, victims of police brutality, and teenage mothers. Subsequent speakers include Tyrone Bittings, Li Cheng, and Jenesis Whyte; predictably, this group of students, all with different life stories, bonds over the power of words and comes together. As Tyrone realizes, “We were more alike than we were different. Black, White, Puerto Rican — it didn’t matter. Truth is truth, and everybody bleeds red.” In her author’s note, Grimes highlights her character Jenesis, who has been in the foster care system all her life and is about to age out; Grimes offers help and resources for vulnerable teens in similar situations.

From the March/April 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Dean Schneider
Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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