A new group of students join Mr. Ward’s poetry class in the companion novel to Bronx Masquerade (2003).
A group of black, white, Asian, and Latinx high school students in Mr. Ward’s class practice the art of poetry in preparation for a weekly open-mike reading each Friday. Through poetry, the students navigate their concerns and fears about themselves, their families, and their futures. As they prepare for the class’s culminating event—a poetry slam competition—the students bond and grow more comfortable revealing themselves through their poems. Each student’s story is introduced and explored in rotating first-person chapters. There’s brown (not black) Puerto Rican Darrian, an aspiring journalist who lost his mother to cancer; 16-year-old Jenesis, a blue-eyed, blonde, black girl who worries what will happen when she ages out of the foster-care system at 18; Chinese-American Li, who hides her love of poetry from her parents; African-American Marcel, whose father wasn’t the same when he returned home from prison; and several others. Unfortunately, the characters’ personal struggles remain largely static throughout the novel, and there’s no overarching plot or compelling conflict among them. Much of the dialogue feels forced and doesn’t ring true as the voices of present-day teens; aside from a few poignant moments, the students’ poetry tends to be heavy-handed.
Although it may not satisfy as a novel, its characters will no doubt resonate with teen readers who share their struggles and aspirations. (Fiction. 12-16)