Audience – Teens Grades 9+
Review by Kayla Hlad (she/her)
MLIS Student, Kent State University iSchool
Nikki Grimes employs poetry to piece together her childhood memories into a narrative burdened with tragedy, but lifted by faith. Central to this narrative is Nikki’s developing perspective about her parents‒a mother suffering from schizophrenia and her mostly absent musician father. The hazards she faced in her childhood and teenage years prove to be extraordinary. But in between these memories, Nikki finds moments of beauty, hope, and love, and the therapeutic power of writing.
Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir (a 2020 Michael L. Printz Honor Book) will showcase the power and freedom of verse in a whole new light to teens. Grimes’ vivid imagery, wide repertoire of poetic devices, and straight forward, yet insightful conclusions are artful, yet accessible. Further, the use of poetry cleverly captures the fleeting and broken essence of memories; the literal “blank spaces” between the poems mimicking Grimes’ lost moments. She effortlessly transports readers into her own act of remembrance, but also grants readers a new perspective on their own past and the gaps within it.
Grimes’ voice is so honest and authentic that the collection avoids the painstaking preaching of poetry’s virtues or overly direct advice that turns off teens. It may be difficult to convince some teens to give this work the try it deserves given its form, but the themes should be a pull for those teens that prefer to face the darkness of the world. For many teens, it will show them that they’re not alone and will offer hope, and for others, the beauty and effortlessness of Grimes’ work will keep them turning the pages.