Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes
(Nancy Paulsen Books ~ February 2018)
Between the Lines is a companion novel to Nikki Grimes’ Coretta Scott King award winning Bronx Masquerade, a book about a group of students who find the power of poetry together in their English class. Now Mr. Ward has a new group of students in his English class in Between the Lines and yet again they’re finding that poetry has the ability to bring diverse groups together.
First things first, those covers! I love the new look; I have the original cover of Bronx Masquerade in my library and the student on the cover looks a bit young. I love the juxtaposition of the words with the young teens on the updated covers; Bronx Masquerade looks like it has graffiti on it and Between the Lines is covered with newspaper headlines. I can’t wait to see these in hardcover!
Bronx Masquerade was published 16 years ago, but in rereading it this week it still felt as relevant and raw as the first time I read it.
Between the Lines is no less powerful.
In its pages we meet Darrian, an aspiring reporter who is convinced that learning to write poetry will hone his writing skills. Darrian narrates through Between the Lines, sharing his headline for each of his peers. We also meet Li, a Chinese American student who wants to prove she is more than just academics. We also meet Jenesis, who has lived in thirteen different foster homes and has walls built up to protect her heart; Freddie, a young girl who cares for her drug-addicted sister’s young child, as well as her alcoholic mother; Marcel, who carries his anger like a shield, among others. Each student opens up through their verse and begins to connect with their peers, ultimately coming together to do a girls vs. boys poetry slam at the conclusion of the book.
These types of books may be difficult for some readers who either struggle to keep the different students straight or wish there was more of a plot. Nevertheless, characters in both books are growing and changing, connecting with each other and their poetry is deeply affecting in many cases. Issues addressed include race, police brutality, immigration, foster care and other important issues in sensitive ways.
I would love to do this in a small group read with students interested in writing their own poetry. It would be a great book to read in preparation for doing a poetry slam in school.
I recommend both these books (buy Bronx Masquerade new so you can have the new cover!) for all high school libraries. Must purchase!
Laura Gardner, a National Board Certified Teacher in Library Media, is Teacher Librarian at Dartmouth Middle School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Laura was awarded the School Library Journal (SLJ) School Librarian of the Year Co-finalist Award in 2016 and is a 2017 Star Touchcast Ambassador. She is on Twitter and Instagram as @LibrarianMsG. She reviews books for School Library Journal and KidLitExchange. In her spare time she reads. A LOT. She lives in Massachusetts with her two children, her husband and the family dog, Frankie.