The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Published by HarperTeen on March 6, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Poetry, Realistic Fiction, Romance, Teen, Young Adult
Length: 357 pages Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
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A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers and HarperTeen in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Poet X dropped into my life at just the point when I needed a beautiful lyrical novel. It is written in prose, which is not the type of novel that normally draws me in. This book? This is beautiful. I really like Elizabeth Acevedo’s voice. Her poetry is simple and emotive. Best of all? It doesn’t rhyme.
I have this thing about rhyming poetry. Mostly? I just like it better when it doesn’t rhyme. Personal preference.
This is more than a book of poetry. It’s the story of a young Latino girl, first generation American, whose family comes from the Dominican Republic. Her mother is very religious – she was on the brink of becoming a nun when she was chosen by the family to immigrate to America and be married. Xiomara struggles with her mother’s beliefs and her father’s emotional absence. It’s an interesting perspective in a YA novel, because Xiomara is not the bad girl, but nor is she trying to be good and failing. Xiomara simply… is. She questions the world around her but she is afraid to be herself because she’s afraid of her mother. Her rebellion isn’t rebellion – it’s a sliver of independence, and it is riddled with guilt.
All that said, this isn’t a story about an oppressive religion and rebellion against someone else’s beliefs. In fact, Father Sean becomes one of Xiomara’s greatest allies. It’s the story about a girl fighting to find herself despite being afraid of the consequences of her desires. I’m having a hard time describing the struggle – the terror of going to hell balanced with the curiosity of wanting to kiss a boy just to know what it would be like. My family has been in the United States at least three generations, so I cannot perfectly empathize with Xiomara… but I do know the tight, pulling feeling in your chest when you imagine the red hot pain of a slap across the face and being told to pray because your soul is soiled from insure thoughts and impulses. Growing up in a household filled with beliefs you do not understand or believe yourself is stifling, especially when you love the people who have trapped you in fear.
Xiomara, like so many others, finds solace in her art. In The Poet X, it’s about slam poetry. Or any poetry, to be honest. It’s a beautiful medium for the story – tying in so well to the character while expressing the passion and pain in ways that come across so much more potently than standard storywriting technique. I expected more poetry and less love story than I found in this book, but I don’t think I would change a word.
It’s stunning, really stunning.
The Poet X Goes to the Graveyard
So, after all the conversation about how I loved this book, I’m not keeping it?
Realistically, I loved this book, but I can’t say that I will pick it up and reread it. Would I buy it? Yes. Would I buy it for someone else? Yes. Do I recommend it to you? Yes. But because it’s a book of poetry, the likelihood of it being read again by me is fairly low. The moment I finished this one, I passed it on to a coworker I think will love it. I did copy down a few of the individual poems that I loved particularly and spoke loudest to me, and those I will read again.
If I find myself in a situation where I have more shelf space (dream goal: whole library room) then it’s one I would consider purchasing for myself. That way, I’m also supporting the author… which is good, since I got this one free to review.