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#BookView-The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

“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.” ― Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

When I read the blurb for The Poet X, I was sharply reminded of the 2019 Hindi film-Gullyboy. There are too many parallels between the movie and the book and I do wonder if……………….. The book is formatted in the verse style; it made for quite a unique read. Though its clearly a book for the teens, I found I could relate to a lot of its content vis-a-vis my life.

Title: The Poet X

Genre: Fiction / Young Adult

Publisher: Egmont UK Limited

Author: Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo is a Dominican American author and a poet. She has over 14 years of experience of performing poetry, she is a National Slam Poetry Champion. The Poet X is her debut novel which has won many awards and accolades since its publication in 2018.

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15 year old Xiomara (See-oh-mah-ruh) Batista is a child of two worlds and struggles to make her identity in either one. She lives in Harlem with her family and attends the local school where she moves with the quiet girls. Being heavy chested, she faces a lot of harassment in her school as well as on the streets. The unwarranted attention both excites her as well as disgusts her.

Her mother (Mami) is an extremely religious Dominican woman who was married much against her wishes by her family. She moved to the US with her husband (Papi), a man of few words who was once very popular with women. Xiomara also has a twin brother Xavier who is gifted with scholarly intelligence and goes to the school for geniuses. He is a quiet and shy individual who does not use his fists to fight at all.

Xio is forced into Church by her Mami where she slowly begins to question religion and her faith. Her Mami is furious when she is not granted admission into the Confirmation class. She constantly lectures Xio on the importance of leading a life of piety.

Caridad is her childhood friend who is deeply religious and lends an empathetic ear to Xio’s troubles, often covering for her too.

Between fighting the sexual harassment, her faith, her mother’s beliefs and the bullies, Xiomara finds solace and release in her poetry. She writes them all down in her diary, sure that no one will ever read them or find them good enough to do so.

“When your body takes up more room than your voice, you are always the target of well-aimed rumors.” ― Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

Unexpectedly, she develops a secret relationship with her lab partner Aman – an immigrant from Trinidad. He seems to be more interested in her than her boobs. They both sneak off to the park to listen to music, and later Xio takes to reciting her poems to him.

Her English teacher Ms Galiano becomes her reason to pursue her passion of slam poetry, when she encourages her to join a poetry club. Its here that Xiomara finds the wind beneath her wings and gradually moves to open mic sessions. She is now consumed with her poetry writing and cannot believe how much her words are appreciated. She finally is no longer invisible and has a voice which is being heard.

But all good things come to an end; all lies fold and fall down. Mami discovers Xiomara’s secret affair and punishes her for it. This leads her to discontinue her affair with Aman as she can’t find words to tell him why she can’t be with him.

“Burn it! Burn it. This is where the poems are,” I say, thumping a fist against my chest. “Will you burn me? Will you burn me, too?” ― Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X

A few months later Mami finds her diary of poems and burns it in front of her eyes. Disheartened, Xiomara runs away from home and calls the one person she knows will not turn her away – Aman. They head to his house and get into a sexual situation, before she halts it. She is unsure if she wants sex with him.

Next day at school, Ms Galiano takes her aside to inquire the whole story as she is aware that Xio had run away from home. After her counselling, Xio agrees to go home but takes Father Sean from the Church to speak with her Mami.

Mother and daughter reconcile though they agree that they won’t become best friends just yet. Xiomara goes onto attend the coveted open mic slam poetry competition which is attended by her family and friends.

Lasting Impression on me:

The verse form of writing is the most unique thing about this book. Its Xiomara’s diary represented as is and in sections corresponding to the biblical verses. I love how the author has used this to divide the topics and issues of the story so neatly.

The angst of a teen girl faced with a changing body and then being blamed for it, is presented very sensitively here. Xiomara is caught between her mother’s strict rules of dating/sexuality and her own body’s siren call. Her shame at feeling excited by the unwanted male attention even when she knows its not right, is heart breaking to read through.

But the intensity of the book totally lies in the verses which form the voice of this young girl and how she longs to find her voice. Xiomara’s coming of age with her determination to be heard is achingly beautiful and is the story of many teenage children.

The writing is sensitive, blunt, brutal and powerful.

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My Rating:

For a first time writer, this is stunning writing and I can’t wait to read her next book. I have rated it a 4 out of 5 stars as its a really intense and powerful book. Do read it if you relate to issues of body shaming, sexual harassment and a struggle to define oneself.

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11 thoughts on “#BookView-The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

  1. This does sound like a really wonderful story, especially for teen girls, I would say, considering so many of them are so conscious of their body. SO many of them live behind masks, seldom revealing to the world their true worth for fear of being either ridiculed of taunted for their physical features.

    1. True that Shilpa! I could relate to so many issues I had faced as a teenager in school and beyond it. The anger at being silenced, the frustration at not being able to defend myself and the unfairness of the whole situation is so familiar to me. I guess thats why I loved this book so much!

  2. Though verse novels are not my fav genre but your review was piqued my interest. Seems like an interesting and insightful read. Will certainly check it out! Thanks for your recommendation, Shalini 🙂

    1. Yeah even I averse to them but this one is not in a rhyming verse. Its prose written in verse form and done very well. What jumps out is the angst and the issues faced by a teenage girl with body shaming, religion, and piety forced down her throat. Just loved the hard gripping way this one has been written. I am a fan of Ms Acevedo and am going to check out her other books soon

    1. Thanks Shinjini – I think you will like reading this one. I am already eyeing her next book which has such a beautiful cover too. Hope to hear from you if you do happen to read this book 🙂

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