book review: Bronxwood

book review: Bronxwood

author: Coe Booth

date: Scholastic, September 2011

main character: Tyrell

Bronxwood is a sequel to Booth’s first book, Tyrell, which I haven’t read. The story seemed to make sense without having read the previous novel, however I would recommend reading it first for a clear understanding of situations.

In Bronxwood, Tyrell, a 16 year Black male, has moved back to Bronxwood from Atlanta and is living with his

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friends. His mother is living alone until Tyrell’s father is released from prison and her youngest child is in foster care. Tyrell’s father is back to his old work habits and trying to get his family back together. To him, this means establishing himself as the head of the house and getting his youngest son back. Tyrell has provided for his mother in his father’s absence and feels as though he has grown into manhood. He resents his father’s actions as much as his father resents Tyrell’s.

Along the way there are plenty of situations that test Tyrell’s resolve to do what he has learned is the right thing. No doubt Tyrell is no longer a child given all he has had to do to try to provide for his mother, brother and himself. But, he’s not an adult either given that he’s still not providing


for himself, not totally. Although Tyrell had a rather adult voice that gave him an air of reliability, it didn’t feel authentic to the character. Of course, as a boy becomes a man, he’s going to have love interests and Booth did not make this easy for Tyrell! He experiences the real life ups and downs of love rather than happily ever after romance. Maybe. It looks like there’s going to be another book!

Tyrell reminds me of too many young men I know who are doing the best they can with what they have. Too often, it’s awfully daggone good but no one seems to notice.

The vibrancy of Tyrell’s neighborhood, his love of basketball and his father’s wild parties with their old school music reminded me of the artwork of Ernie Barnes. I think the story can easily be paired with these images that affirm life in the Black community. His style is called ‘neo Mannerist’ and one of his trademarks is painting people with their eyes closed. With all the bright colors and fluid movement, the people’s eyes are closed. When asked about this, Barnes said

 …I began to see, observe, how blind we are to one another’s humanity. Blinded by a lot of things that have, perhaps, initiated feelings in that light. We don’t see into the depths of our interconnection. The gifts, the strength and potential within other human beings. We stop at color quite often. So one of the things we have to be aware of is who we are in order to have the capacity to like others. But when you cannot visualize the offerings of another human

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being you’re obviously not looking at the human being with open eyes.”[21] “We look upon each other and decide immediately: This person is black, so he must be… This person lives in poverty, so he must be…”

So, I would ask

  • Do these images match any scenes in the book?
  • Can you compare Tyrell’s thoughts about women to those painted by Barnes?
  • If Barnes were still alive which scene in the book might he select to paint? What would it look like?
  •  How were Tyrell’s eyes closed? His fathers? His mothers? Cal’s?

more Ernie Barnes artwork

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3 thoughts on “book review: Bronxwood

  1. I love the connection you’ve made between the book and the artwork! This is how I want to interact with the books I read, but I’m afraid I often fail. (This is why I started an online book club, too–to try to make more connections like this with help from fellow readers.)

    I will read the book and see what answers I have to those questions. Unfortunately, when I last looked, our libraries weren’t stocking Coe’s books. I read the Longstockings’ blog while it was running (Coe was a member), and I’ve been looking for her books since Tyrell was published. I will have to buy the books, and this is probably the extra push I need to get off my duff and do it.



  2. Hi JenFW, I’m glad you’re motivated to read Bronxwood. If you library isn’t stock it (or any book) request that they do! We librarians work hard to select books for our users but it really helps if you let us know what you want to read.


  3. I love this pairing! What a powerful way to deepen understanding of both art forms- the literature and visual art. I think I just might have to work on pairing excerpts from the text with the images. Thank you so much for sharing. The painting titled “growth” reminded my Tupac’s poem and metaphor as well. Connections are sprouting up all over the place!


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