Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes tell the stories of nine teenagers connected by one powerful poetry class. It describes the teens’ hopes, dreams, and ambitions and how each is working to achieve his/her goals against all odds. While some books can be confusing when told from multiple perspectives, Grimes simplifies things for the reader by changing grammar and style to reflect each character. She also employs a unique structural element. Almost every chapter ends with a poem, reflected upon by the main character, Darrian. This helps keep the reader intrigued, amused, and on track.
Reading Between the Lines greatly deepened my understanding of the purpose and power of poetry. It shows how strong friendships and one common interest (in this case, poetry) can help youth overcome life challenges. It also provides a glimpse into a world of immigration struggles and stereotypes, an unjust foster and legal system, dysfunctional families, and an unplanned child born to an unready mother. Between the Lines gives multiple examples of how you can never truly know what’s going on in a person’s life. Empathy and compassion, however, are the bonds that unite us.
Between the Lines main characters is not so lucky. He accepts the plea bargain in order to return to his family, but as his son says, he does not return the same. He is angry that he cannot get a decent job, that his children are hungry, and that his family has been forced to move to a smaller apartment even though he has done nothing wrong. The author comments on the complexity of the judicial system and how it plays out for poor Black and Brown males, in particular, whether innocent or guilty.
Despite these heavy themes, I greatly enjoyed Between the Lines. It tells the truth but in such a way that I felt empowered not overwhelmed. Between the Lines is a book that is sure to lift your spirits, to make you feel like you can accomplish anything, all the while teaching you valuable life and history lessons.
Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018.
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