The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My parents probably wanted a girl who would sit in the pews
wearing pretty florals and a soft smile.
They got combat boots and a mouth silent
until it’s sharp as an island machete

At 15, Xiomara Batista is having trouble figuring out where she fits among the roles everyone seems to want to cast her in. Her mother is a deeply devout Catholic who sacrificed her own dream of becoming a nun to marry and emigrate from the Dominican Republic, and she finds Xio’s questioning of the teachings of the church incomprehensible. Her twin brother, a gentle genius Xio has always protected and defended, is suddenly distancing himself from her. She’s just starting to notice a boy she might actually like, after years of unwanted attention from grown men on the block, and despite her parents’ rules against her dating at all.

Xio is jut on the edge of figuring out who she is and who she wants to be, what kind of life she wants to live, and what she wants to do. She’s asking difficult questions and realizing that, sometimes, the answers just aren’t there.

While that could describe many teens in many different situations, the book grounds itself in the experience of a young woman of color, and a first-generation American, in the early 21st century, caught between cultures and trying to grow into an adult without growing up too fast. Xio deals with casual racism and sexual harassment as everyday occurrences. When someone finally says to her, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” it’s a revelation.

When has anyone ever told me
I had the right to stop it all
without my knuckles, or my anger
with just some simple words.

The book is written as a novel in poems, reflecting both Xiomara’s development as a poet and Acevedo’s background as a noted slam poet herself. It’s probably really great on audio, and I possibly just don’t get slam poetry, but most of the poems didn’t come across to me as poems so much as prose cut into short phrases and surrounded by white space. Despite my issues with the form, though, this book is a powerful emotional experience and a great addition to contemporary YA literature.

Source: Checked out from my public library

Challenges: Read Harder Task 3: A Book by a Woman and/or Author of Color that Won a Literary Award in 2018 (National Book Award); Reading Women Task 24: A Young Adult Book by a Woman of Color

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