Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre: poetry; ya; contemporary; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) 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.
Review: 5 Stars. Have you ever read a book and literally read every single word? And focus on every single word? Maybe you have, but I haven’t. I read really fast, I mean, fast, and so I go through words like… Pop Rocks. You don’t just eat one Pop Rocks piece at a time, you pour the package into your mouth and get the experience that way. I take in full sentences like that, not word over word, but full sentences at a glance.
It’s really hard to explain. I understand everything I read, with amazing clarity but I’ve never focused in, really looked at the words used in every single sentence in a book until The Poet X.
Of course I’ve analyzed literature and poetry for school work, and I read words out loud of course, but if I think about words on the page, The Poet X, made me think about the economy of words, and the precision with which to use them.
The whole book is poetry, told in narrative, about Xiomara, a Dominican girl growing up in a strict home, trying to find her voice. She uses this book as her journal so readers gain insight to her as she writes her feelings down about her family, religion, growing up, boys, and poetry.
Acevedo has a powerful way of expressing the thoughts and feelings of a girl growing up in a stifling home. Of a girl growing up in a body she has no control over. She’s got so many powerful poems in this book.
My favorite is “Unhide-able” because Xiomara is trying to come to terms with her body in a house that wants her to cover up her body, in a neighbor that wants to catcall her body, in a generation that wants to speak out about her body and the jealousy that comes along with it. She writes:
“I am I unhide-able.
Taller than even my father, with what Mami has always said / was “a little too much body for such a young girl.” / I am the baby fat that settles into D cups and swinging hips / so that the boys who called me a whale in middle school / now ask me to send them pictures of myself in a thong.
The other girls call me conceited. Ho. Thot. Fast. / When your body takes up more room then your voice / you are always the target of well-aimed rumors, / which is why I let my knuckles talk for me. / Which is why I learned to shrug when I name was replaced by insults.
I’ve forced my skin just as thick as I am” (7).
So many women go through this same thing. So many teenagers and women alike just have to take this kind of criticism and this kind of rumor gossip mill stuff and Xio captures it perfectly here in this one poem. Xio learns to shrug the gossip off, like many of us do, but at 16 — what kind of message is she internalizing?
At the climax of the book, Xio writes, “The world is almost peaceful / when you stop trying / to understand it” (223). It’s so powerful, right? Acevedo has such a gift for language. If you’ve never heard any of her actual spoken word, please do yourself a favor and go (HERE) now. She’s so amazing.
The story Acevedo weaves through her poetry is one about self acceptance more than anything but it takes a huge family detonation to come about. That hit home for me. I think it does for a lot of people. It’s so relatable and honest. It’s hard to find out what we’re meant to be when we aren’t allowed to be ourselves, right? I think Acevedo captures that so well in this book.
Do yourselves a favor. Get this book. Binge it. You’ll thank me.
** I don’t have any affliation with Barnes and Noble, buy it anywhere you want, just buy it.