The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Published by: HarperTeen
Publish Date: March 2018
Genre(s): Fiction, Teen, Contemporary, Poetry
HB&W Rating: 4.5
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Buy on Amazon: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository
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.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
She knew since she was little, the world would not sing her triumphs, but she took all of the stereotypes and put them in a chokehold until they breathed out the truth.
Wow. Days after finishing this book and that’s still just about all I can say. Wow.
This is the debut novel for Elizabeth Acevedo, whose second book, With the Fire On High was one of my favorite reads of 2019. The two books both talk about coming of age against the odds, but while With the Fire On High is a feel-good story written in a traditional novel style, this one uses the art of poetry and prose to tell the story of a young girl who is struggling with loving herself in a world where she is defined by others.
I loved With the Fire On High so much that when I saw this book become available at my library, I jumped on it. I will admit that reading poetry was not something I was looking forward to. I like my poetry to rhyme and this wasn’t that, but it had rhythm, and while at first reading the lines could feel a bit choppy, the emotion that the words and rhythm evoked just cut me to the quick.
Xiomara’s mom is devout to her Catholic faith and it seems as if she carries resentment toward her husband and anger with herself for giving in to what she perceived to be the sin of the flesh…premarital sex. So when Xiomara begins to develop into womanhood, instead of helping Xiomara understand and thwart unsolicited advances, instead of helping her to understand her developing body or give her insight and explanation to it, Xiomara’s mom resorts to religion as the solution, submitting Xiomara to what I would call forms of mental, emotional and physical abuse disguised as devout religion.
Trigger Warning: the book contains a depiction of religious fanaticism that I would say crosses the line into mental, emotional, and physical abuse.
This book will straight up gut you, and watching Xiomara find a way to be true to herself, to find her voice, was a beautiful thing to watch. I will say that I felt the end was tied up a little toooo neatly to be believable, which is why I didn’t give this a full five stars. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but when a book is as realistic and gut-wrenching as this book was for the entirety, I felt it deserved a more realistic ending to it. It’s a feel-good ending, which I guess is nice, but still. I can’t really say more without giving it away. So you’ll have to read it yourself and see, and I definitely recommend that you do so, then come back and tell me what you think. ;).
Side note: I have heard some people saying that the audiobook version of this book is read by the author, and that it is amazing. The author has a background in slam poetry, so I bet it is fantastic! If you think you might have a hard time reading the poetry, I’d encourage you to give the audiobook version a go, then come back and tell me what you think!
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