The Poet X
by Elizabeth Acevedo
A teenager in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world.
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 (see-oh-MAH-ruh) 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. 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.
When she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club she knows that she could never get around Mami’s rules…But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. Because in spite of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
A novel in verse. Don’t let that scare you, through. Acevedo’s poetry is down-to-earth and accessible even to those who aren’t used to reading poetry. From the opening lines, with its vivid descriptions of Xiomara’s Harlem neighborhood in summer, readers will be swept away by the beautiful language and realistic, urban coming-of-age story.
Xiomara’s strong sense of self. She struggles with wanting to express herself while knowing that her religious mother wouldn’t approve. Her strong voice, personality, and fierce nature that she uses to protect herself and her twin brother, all make for a compelling character. This novel earns bonus points for a thoughtful portrayal of an LGBTQIA+ character as well as realistic depictions of sexual harassment.
What Others Say
“A story that will slam the power of poetry and love back into your heart.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak
“The Poet X crackles with energy and snaps with authenticity and voice. Every poem in this stunningly addictive and deliciously rhythmic verse novel begs to be read aloud. Xiomara is a protagonist who readers will cheer for at every turn. As X might say, Acevedo’s got bars. Don’t pass this one by.”
– Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation
“Though vivid with detail about family, love and culture, The Poet X is more of an exploration of when the poet becomes the poem. Xiomara teeters between verbosity and restraint, shape and form, rewriting and sharing. Most important, the poet (and poem) searches for the freedom to stand on her own…”
– Jason Reynolds, author of National Book Award finalist Ghost
This Best-Selling Author’s Secret
Acevedo writes what she knows. As the daughter of Dominican immigrants, and as a National Poetry Slam Champion, she was uniquely suited to write this story. Check out a YouTube video of her performing one of her poems, and you will see Xiomara come alive.
To Katherine Bolaños and my former students at Buck Lodge Middle School 2010-2012 and all the little sisters yearning to see themselves: this is for you
Excerpt (from the opening pages)
I’m the only one in the family
without a biblical name.
Shit, Xiomara isn’t even Dominican.
I know, because I Googled it.
It means: One who is ready for war.
And truth be told, that description is about right
because I even tried to come into the world
in a fighting stance: feet first.
Had to be cut out of Mami
after she’d given birth
to my twin brother, Xavier, just fine.
And my name labors out of some people’s mouths
in that same awkward and painful way.
Until I have to slowly say:
I’ve learned not to flinch the first day of school
as teachers get stuck stupid trying to figure it out.
Mami says she thought it was a saint’s name.
Gave me this gift of battle and now curses
how well I live up to it.
Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a bachelor’s degree in performing arts from George Washington University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland.
With more than 14 years of performance poetry experience, Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, participant in the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and has two collections of poetry.
Her critically-acclaimed debut novel The Poet X won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She is also the recipient of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the Carnegie Medal (the first writer of color to receive this British literary award), the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award, and the 2029 Pure Belpré Author Award for celebrating, affirming and portraying Latinx culture and experience. Her latest novel is With The Fire On High. She resides in Washington, D.C. with her love.
Find out more at www.AcevedoWrites.com
This review was first published at www.NoSpoilersBookReviews.com
Katherine Valdez loves to read and write about books. She laments the proliferation of reviews that give away too much of the plot.
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