Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Publication Date: May 3rd 2018
Rating: 🌟 🌟 🌟 🌟
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.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review!
“THERE IS POWER IN THE WORD.”
The Poet X is an inspiring #ownvoices novel about poetry, told from the perspective of a plus-size Dominican teen – Xiomara – and tackling an array of themes such as religion, rape culture, body-shaming and sexuality through verse.
This is a story about learning to accept a body that is constantly and unwillingly subjected to the male gaze; it is a story about exploring romantic relationships even though your religion teaches you that girls liking boys (or even girls) is a sin; it is about growing up in a conservative family and the imposing of faith that eventually leads you to question it.
I loved that the author doesn’t shy away from portraying religion in a negative light, and that Xiomara wasn’t afraid to question her God or to skip her Confirmation classes to join the poetry club at school – as long as her mother never found out.
The family dynamics in this book were messy but real. Where her brother was concerned, there was a heart-warming relationship built around protecting the other, especially after sharing a womb for nine months. But where her mother was concerned, there was a complicated relationship built on misunderstanding and judgement. Put simply, Xiomara’s mother is a dominant figure in the story who uses religion as an excuse to be emotionally abusive towards her children.
Through her assignment drafts, we get a sense of conflict in Xiomara; what she wants to write and submit vs. what she actually writes and submits to conform to the expectations of society and everyone around her. But through her poems, Xiomara is able to write what she cannot say. And when her mother uncovers her journal, with her daughter’s honest thoughts written between the lines, the situation does get explosive.
Overall, through the novel’s conclusion, I felt angry on Xiomara’s behalf. And the author does well to convey the magnitude of her emotions through such little words, with the format of the novel complementing the narrative in a way it otherwise wouldn’t.