Monday, July 30, 2018

Between The Lines: A Review and Audio Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Connie Saunders who won Behind These Hands from last week's blog.


Nikki Grimes' sequel to Bronx Masquerade, BETWEEN THE LINES (Penguin Random House, 2018), combines narrative and free verse in a moving book about teens whose lives are changed through poetry. The audio book published by Recorded Books is narrated by different actors; each eloquently expresses a different character. Listen or read this book and you'll reach the same conclusion that I did: Grimes masterfully created authentic voices and personalities for the six different point of view characters. 


For various reasons ranging from a desire to write poetry to attendance only because of a guidance counselor's suggestion--the students in Mr. Ward's poetry class are thrown together. The universal theme of wanting to belong weaves the students and their poems together. This commonality provides the reader a window into the the personal and interpersonal struggles and triumphs they face.

The reader first hears about Darian, a Puerto Rican teen who sees himself as a newspaper man, not a poet. He lost his mother to breast cancer and by the end of the book his poetry gives him a way to express his grief. 

Private Pain

Numb, I sit on the edge
of the bed
Mami y Papi share.
I feel light as the ghost
my mother has become.
Her picture 
on the bedside table
looks blurry until
I wipe my eyes.
"Pobrecito," she would say.
If she were here,
if she were anywhere
in this world.
"Mijo," she would whisper
and touch my cheek,
and I would answer,
But this time,
The word never leaves
my throat.
And what difference
does that make?
When I wasn't looking
Mama's heart stopped
like a broken clock.
Half past 36,
the final tick,
the final tock.
Explain to me
exactly how 
I'm supposed to
tell time now. (pp. 130-1)


Li Cheng is "all Chinese and all American." Her poetry is full of "contradictions which squeeze into one small body."


How can I explain
the duality of Li?
The muffled sounds
of mah-jong tiles touching,
clicking together,
flips a switch in me
as my parents follow
the ritual 
of the ancient game.
The Mandarin calligraphy
clinging to our walls
sends my soul sailing 
to rice paddies
oceans away,
to the land of silk,
red sunrises,
and the jade mountain peaks
my parents
often speak of.
China whispers 
through their blood,
You are part mine.
And I nod, silent
and ashamed
that my untrained
American lips
are unfamiliar 
with my ancestors'
local lingo. (pp. 26-7)


Jenesis has been placed in thirteen foster homes and is worried about aging out of the system and having nowhere to live. Here is some of her story. 

Blue Eyes Squared

I see you staring at me.
You be boring a hole in my soul
as if the alchemy
of your curiosity
could somehow turn
these blue eyes brown,
but you might as well forget it.
You frown at my blond curls,
even though girls with hair
the color of sun
the color of spun gold
are supposed to have more fun.
At least, that's the story
they try to sell on TV.
Yeah, I'm different, but
don't call me freak
or assume I'm the only one.
There are bound to be
other brown beauties
with pale blue eyes
eerily like mine,
wearing smiles crooked
in exactly the same way,
noses that scream
matched set.
Are there more like me?
Yeah, you bet.
When I find them,
I'll fit in without question,
never mind that
the world thinks
I'm odd as H-E-
well, you get it. (pp. 33-34)


Val feels the pain of the prejudice her father faces as an Argentinian immigrant.

What You Don't Know

Mi padre, Ignacio,
is a book you haven't read.
It's filled with poetry
that can curl its fingers
around your corazón 
and squeeze out joy.
Pero you've never
cracked the cover.
You scribble crítica  
that questions
the measure of the man,
but you've never
 peeled back the pages
of his biografía.   
You toss el libro
onto the trash heap
marked "Immigrant"
y ustedes dicen it has no value.
But, of course,
you are categorically incorrect,
which you would know
if only you could read
las palabras.
If only you, too,
were blessed
to be bilingual. (p. 51)


Marcel has been labeled a troublemaker. His past includes his father's unjust imprisonment and how that demoralized him and shattered their family.

Troubled (partial)

What is it
with people and their labels,
as if the way they mark me
makes them able
to understand who I am
or why?
"Troubled kid"
tells you exactly nothing
about the trouble
my pops has seen 
or Moms
or me.
We stare from windows 
caged in iron,
in state prisons
or rented rooms,
which are only better
by degree.
We are forced
to survive outside
the neatly mowed landscapes
of your imagination.
Our stop on the train station
is worlds away
from your manicured lawns
and lives
and the lies you tell
about the days
of racial discrimination
being in the past.
Quit asking
why I'm angry
or I'll tell you. (pp. 39-40)


Freddie takes care of her eight-year-old niece and her alcoholic mother. This is a portion of one of her poems.

School Rules

Stage right,
the lights fade on a daily life
of tiptoeing around
my niece's feelings about the mom
who traded time with her
for time spent cozying up to crank.
The truth is too rank
for her tender little-girl ears.
And so, until she's fast asleep,
I keep bitter thoughts
under my tongue's lock and key.
Have I mentioned how it hurts me?
That neither my niece nor I
manage to have a mother
worthy of the name?
Oh, mine is present,
in an alcoholic-fog kind of way,
which is to say, hardly at all. (p. 148)


Nikki Grimes stitches a story together so real and touching that after the boys vs. girls poetry slam which produces outstanding poetry on both sides--I want to know what happens to each character. This would be a great curriculum resource for teens: some readers will resonate and identify, others will be informed by stories much different than their own. Read it out loud in reader's theater. Let it inspire you and your student to write poetry. The results may surprise you.  


I am giving away my audio book, courtesy Recorded Books. Leave me a comment with your email address if you are new to my blog. will pick a winner on August 3.


Jana Leah B said...

I like that this story is told from the different kids' POVs.

Carol Baldwin said...

Jana, Nikki's other book, Bronx Masquerade, is written the same way. Both are great reads! starting the giveaway list with your name.

Theresa Milstein said...

I am such a HUGE fan of Nikki Grimes. I would LOVE to win this. Bronx Masquerade was great, and I think it's fantastic that this is in the same style. tmilstein at gmail dot com

Carol Baldwin said...

I'm not surprised that you're a Nikki Grimes fan too, Theresa. Your name goes into the hat!

proseandkahn said...

Read this as an arc and loved Bronx Masquerade and all Nikki Grimes has written! Would love to reread Read Between the Lines with my ears! Thanks for the chance! email= bkahnlovesbooks@gmail(dot)com


proseandkahn said...

Hm, I tried to post a comment but it disappeared. Love Nikki Grimes' work. Would love to reread Read Between the Lines with my ears! Thanks!


Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Brenda. I received both your comments. You're in!!

Rosi said...

A book by Nikki Grimes is always worth celebrating. This one looks terrific. I'll pass on the audio book. I really like to read poetry and often need to go back over and over things to get all the richness. Thanks for the post.

Linda Phillips said...

Thanks, Carol, for featuring another book in verse! I'm definitely interested in reading this book!! Sharing now!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Rosi and LInda, for leaving comments. LInda- you're in! Rosi- I understand wanting to review poetry in print. I had to get the book out of the library for this post and it is powerful!

Debbie Allmand said...

These poems remind me of MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers. Heart wrenching and brutally truthful. Thank you for this review.

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, Deb, brutally honest. You're in!

UPSIDE DOWN MAGIC- Part I by Guest Blogger, Elliott Kurta

Please welcome back Elliott Kurta with his evaluation of an 8-book series by Sarah Mlynoski, Lauren Myracle , and Emily Jenkins.          R...