Published by HarperTeen on March 6, 2018
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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.
Bantering Books Review
I never knew I liked poetry.
I’ve never been drawn to it. I have only ever read it in school, where it often left me bewildered. I would stretch my brain to search for the meaning behind the words of Dickinson, Whitman, and Frost. It was such a struggle. And not a very enjoyable one, at that. I would silently hope that the teacher would not call on me, knowing that I didn’t have many, or any, thoughts to contribute to the class discussion.
But that no longer is the case. Now, I get it. With The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo has opened my eyes and mind. I see poetry in a different light. And it is a warm, luminous, enveloping light.
“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.”
The Poet X is a Young Adult novel-in-verse. Through free verse slam poetry, Acevedo tells the story of 15-year-old Xiomara Batista, as she comes of age in Harlem. Her parents are Dominican and her mother, especially, is devoutly religious. So desperate is her mother to force Xiomara to conform to the laws of the Church that she often employs emotional and physical abuse as punishment for Xiomara’s transgressions.
There are many, many thoughts swirling in Xiomara’s head — a multitude of emotions, questions, and frustrations. She feels ignored and unheard by her parents. She doubts Christianity, as she feels it is being forced down her throat by her mother. She fights her developing body and the unwanted, harassing attention it brings her from boys and men. She has newfound feelings for a boy in her class at school, even though she knows her parents will not approve.
With having so much to say and no one who will listen, Xiomara turns to her writing journal. And she writes poem after poem after poem. She writes all that she cannot speak. She refuses to be silenced.
One of my reasons for reading The Poet X is that I desired a challenge. I wanted to step outside the box, outside my comfort zone. And I don’t know if I am even qualified to write a review of this novel. This is my very first novel-in-verse, and I have read nothing else to which I can compare it.
But I do know I loved it. Truly loved it. Acevedo’s writing is just so powerful.
Her poetry is raw and razor sharp. Her words are fiery and blaze across the page. They cut like a knife, straight into your soul. The language is spare. Clear and concise. There is no excess. No filler.
We feel Xiomara’s rush of first love, and the headiness it brings her. We feel her anger towards her mother and her internal confusion about religion. We feel her rising indignation from being repeatedly sexually harassed at school and in her neighborhood.
“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.”
We feel it all. And it is a beautiful thing.
Had it not been for the quick ending, The Poet X would have garnered a full five stars from me. But the story is too easily and tidily wrapped up. Particularly, the resolution of the story line regarding Xiomara’s relationship with her mother. It just doesn’t ring true, what with the speed of it all.
If The Poet X calls to you, answer the call. If you feel any pull to read it, allow yourself to be pulled. Challenge yourself. Try something different. For —
“There is power in the word.”