Book Review

The Poet X

The Poet X

  • Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
  • Genre: YA Contemporary, Multicultural, Coming of Age
  • Publication Date: March 6, 2018
  • Publisher: HarperTeen

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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 her frustration 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. 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.

When she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she knows that she could never get around Mami’s rules to attend, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in spite of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Let me start out by saying that I could not put this book down and finished it in a single sitting. But this wasn’t hard to do, since a) the story was incredibly compelling and b) the entire story is told in verse, so it isn’t as long as it actually seems. 

This is definitely one of the most intriguing and well-written coming of age stories that I’ve ever read. Xiomara is the kind of girl that I found easy to relate to. While a lot of her story is really different from my own, we did actually have a few things in common. And I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of people who can see themselves in Xiomara’s story.

Xiomara and her twin are viewed as miracles — they were born to parents who were older and didn’t think they could have children. Her mother is very religious, and brings her children up in a very strict, very Catholic household. Along with that, comes a double standard. Xiomara has to follow a different set of rules than her brother does. And while her brother seems to have no trouble meeting the high expectations that their mother sets, Xiomara always seems to be falling short. Her father is around, but he isn’t really there for them. 

At 15, she’s trying to figure out who she is. She has different hopes and dreams for herself than what her mother wants for her. She often feels unheard, and finds herself questioning her faith, which creates an even more difficult relationship with her mother than she already has. Even her concerns about religion make sense, and I love how she words them:

“When I’m told to have faith/in the father/the son/in men/and men are the first ones/to make me feel so small.”

On top of everything, Xiomara is dealing with her growing interest in boys, or one boy in particular, and her mother’s complete ban on dating, and boys in general.

“How does a girl like me figure out the weight of what it means to love a boy?”

Her only outlet is writing poetry. It’s the only place where she feels comfortable and safe enough to release all the words pent up inside, and the only place where she isn’t repressed and can talk about how she feels:

“To grab my notebook, and write, and write, and write all the things I wish I could have said. Make poems from the sharp feelings inside, that feel like they could carve me wide open.”

I absolutely loved every minute, every page, every single word of this book. The story, the verse, the characters, the relationships, even the conflicts drew me in and didn’t let me go until long after I finished the book. I already know that this is one of those stories that will stick with me. Xiomara and the rest of the cast of characters are flawed and imperfect, but they are some of the realest characters that I’ve ever encountered. This is the third book of Elizabeth Acevedo’s book that I’ve read (and loved), and I’m now going to be forced to immediately jump on any book that she puts out, because I just know it’s going to be amazing. 

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