October 1, 2018

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo


The Poet X

by Elizabeth Acevedo

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction, Poetry
Publisher: HarperTeen
Length: 368 pages
Published: March 6, 2018
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"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."

Quote:

"I only know that learning to believe in the power of my own words has been the most freeing experience of my life. It has brought me the most light. And isn't that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark."


Excerpt:

"The summer is made for stoop-sitting
and since it's the last week before school starts,
Harlem is opening its eyes to September.

I scope out this block I've always called home.

Watch the old church ladies, chancletas flapping
against the pavement, their mouths letting loose a train
of island Spanish as they spread he said, she said.

Peep Papote from down the block
as he opens the fire hydrant
so the little kids have a sprinkler to run through.

Listen to honking cabs with bachata blaring
from their open windows
compete with basketballs echoing from the Little Park.

Laugh at the viejos--my father not included--
finishing their dominoes tournament with hard slaps
and yells of "Capicu!"

My Book Review:

The Poet X is a powerful coming-of-age story about an African American-Latina teenage girl struggling with her body, her faith, and her relationship with her mother. Written in free verse, the novel tells of the story of Xiomara Batista. As her body has developed, she receives negative attention and sexual harassment from the boys and men around her. Years of this behavior has hardened Xiomara's exterior as she's built up a wall protect herself and her vulnerability. The only people Xiomara feels close to are her best friend and her twin brother who's unlike her in so many ways but is also going through his own coming-of-age crisis.

At school, Xiomara meets and begins dating a boy named Aman, but Xiomara is not allowed to date and breaks her parents--particularly her mother's--rules by sneaking around. When Xiomara begins taking Communion classes at church, her questions about faith are not met with answers but with criticism. She continues to break away from her faith and her family, trusting only in her relationship and in her ability to pour out her feelings in her journal and in her school's spoken poetry club. Ultimately, Xiomara and her mother fight in a painful, dramatic scene leaving Xiomara to wonder how she can ever hope to heal the pain in her family.

In the increasingly popular vein of racial justice young adult literature, The Poet X is a strong contribution. I liked Xiomara's story and really loved that Acevedo wrote the story through poetry; I hope this exposure to slam poetry will inspire YA readers to pick up their own pens and use the genre as a form of expression.

While I enjoyed the book and found it to be a poignant story, I must note to readers that there is a lot of teenage sexual content in the story--some of it graphic--so be advised when selecting the appropriate reading audience.

The way Acevedo has both the acts of writing and participating in spoken poetry speak to Xiomara's soul was beautiful. Ultimately it is poetry that helps her save herself and her relationship with her family as they work to piece things back together and overcome their crises of faith and anger.

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