Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bronx Masquerade is targeted at young adults, who often hide the vulnerabilities they share beneath artificial masks that make them seem to have little in common. The novel’s characters, perhaps not yet jaded enough wholly to buy into their parents’ fears and prejudices, remain young enough that the art of poetry can slice through their facades to reveal their souls. They express in rhythm and rhyme the extent to which their hearts all beat to the same time. This is the message at the novel’s core. It is a book for optimists, for dreamers and poets. Its purpose is to inspire.

The students in Mr. Ward’s class discover that it is too easy to judge by appearances. The labels they use to classify and sort their friends, family, enemies, and neighbors are terribly inadequate to capture the complexity of their fellow human beings. The novel’s eighteen characters are all different in appearance. Outwardly, they present a fiction that comforts and reassures others. Inwardly, however, they strive to break free from their self-imposed masks and reveal the beauty hidden beneath.

Grimes chooses to convey this message through poetry, because it allows her to use lyrical devices rather than standard narration or description to convey information about her characters. In the journal Language Arts, Grimes told an interviewer,I am really uncomfortable with this label “verse novel” because that’s not what I do. I much prefer that my work be called a “novel in poetry” because there are too many so-called verse novels you get fifty pages into without finding a single metaphor. What they’re actually writing is broken prose. They think as long as it doesn’t go all the way across the page, it’s poetry.