At a high school in the Bronx, students in Mr. Ward's English class are learning all about the Harlem Renaissance. When Mr. Ward assigns them an essay to write, Wesley, one of the kids in class, has the bright idea to write a poem instead—it's what they're studying, after all. Mr. Ward asks Wesley to read his poem out loud, and Open Mike Fridays (yeah, we know it's spelled weird, but that's how Mr. Ward likes to roll) are born.
Every Friday, the eighteen kids from Mr. Ward's class bring in poems to read in front of the other students. Tyrone is pretty psyched about this development because it fits in with his dreams of being a rapper and a songwriter—writing poetry is pretty darn close to rapping. Pretty soon, Tyrone is way into school and is writing poems every week for Open Mike Fridays. Yay for learning.
The story goes on to give us a mini-glimpse into the lives of each of Mr. Ward's students. There's Raul, who wants to be an artist; Lupe, who thinks having a baby while still in high school will give her someone to love; Janelle, who feels insecure about her weight; Steve, who dreams of working on Broadway; and Porscha, who's angry because her mom died of a drug overdose.
Slowly, Tyrone discovers that he doesn't really know much about his classmates. As each kid reads a poem and opens up about their struggles and their dreams, they all learn that they're really not so different after all. Everyone feels insecure; everyone feels like they don't belong; everyone worries about the future. It's like one big love and tolerance fest in English class.
By the end of the book, Mr. Ward's class has been written up in the newspaper and read poems during an assembly in front of the whole school. Open Mike Fridays are so successful that Mr. Ward decides to do them in every class next year. Oh, and to add a poetry slam competition. Tyrone is so there.