The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Bronx Masquerade features the literary equivalent of an ensemble cast. The novel is filled with the voices of these young adults. By contrast, the voice of Mr. Ward, their teacher, is never heard directly. The students speak, first in prose then in verse. Writing in The Horn Book Magazine, reviewer Susan P. Bloom said, “Grimes asks a lot of poetry in this short, fast-paced novel: within a year these eighteen kids have allowed poetry to turn them into a family and to turn them around.”

Grimes, who was born in Harlem and has lived in nearly every borough in New York City, presents eighteen young men and women, each with a unique voice and a special circumstance. With the exception of Tyrone Bittings, the students get about equal billing. Tyrone is essentially the emcee of the novel, the man who comes on stage between the acts to crack wise and give the next act time to set up.

Depending on one’s frame of mind and personal experience, one might find a particular student’s story more compelling than the others or more relevant to one’s own life. However, each young character is sufficiently drawn by Grimes to convey his or her story.

One student, Diondra Jordan, is tall and lanky. Her father looks at her and sees the son he never had, the basketball player he has always dreamed of, but his daughter is awkward and inept at sports. With a charcoal pencil, however, she can capture a person’s essence and allow a viewer to see her subject’s soul through carefully rendered eyes. As the novel begins, she has no idea of the depth of her talent. She only knows that she loves to draw. It is another student in the class, Raul Ramirez, confident and determined, who is the class artist. He uses Mr. Ward’s desk as a miniature studio before each class. Only when Raul sees one of Diondra’s drawings does she realize that she has a gift: Raul chases after Diondra down the hallway just so he can get a better look at her drawing and tell her he only wishes he had her skill. Only then does Diondra begin to believe in herself.

This type of discovery transforms to some degree every student in Mr. Ward’s class. The vehicle for each transformation is poetry.