Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Category: Young Adult
Series info: Standalone book
I have seen praise for this book for a long time. I even gifted it to a friend in the beginning of this year, but I didn’t read it until recently. I waited because I wasn’t sure that I’d like poetry. And this book is a novel written in poetry form. It tells a story. I was hesitant to pick it up because of the format since I have never really liked poetry before.
Told through poems, each with their own peaks and lows and different intonations, this book documents Xiomara’s first year of high school. Xiomara is a 14 year old with “a body too big for her age”. Ever since her body developed curves, she has had to use force to fight because she’s not left alone. That’s a huge part of Xiomara’s daily life.
Not only does she have to deal with attention from outside, Xiomara also has to deal with her mother who is very conservative and religious. While Xiomara wants to explore things with boys and wonders about kissing, her mother drills words into her about “good Christian girls”.
X’s life is completely changed when she discovers slam poetry through her English teacher. She thinks about how she would deliver her poems and how she would emphasize some parts. When X is invited to join the poetry club, she doesn’t because she knows her Mami won’t approve but that’s all she can think about.
We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
in background. But I don’t feel so different
when I listen to her. I feel heard.
The Poet X takes us through a very critical year in X’s life as she begins to question God and Christianity, as she rebels against her mother’s ideals and comes to terms with her body, and as she begins to truly find herself.
If my body was a Country Club soda bottle,
it’s one that has been shaken and dropped
and at any moment it’s gonna pop open
and surprise the whole damn world.
I really shouldn’t have been hesitant about picking up this book. Once I started reading this while, I couldn’t stop. The writing style just drew me in. As I read the poems, I was reciting them in my head and they were damn good. I got completely immersed into the book. In fact, I read the book in almost one sitting! Even when I required breaks when I got too many feels or needed a break from the heavy topics, I returned within minutes because I wanted more.
My parents probably wanted a girl who would sit in the pews
wearing pretty florals and soft smile.
They got combat boots and a mouth silent
until it’s sharp as an island machete.
Xiomara is a tough girl, with words flowing in her head all day in poems and rhymes. She starts writing poems in her journal (gifted by her Twin to put her thoughts somewhere) and it becomes therapeutic for her. She writes out her thoughts, doubts, feelings and opinions in her poems.
I empathized with X, and I felt for her. Her story brought so many issues into the picture. We read about sexism, eve-teasing, catcalling, Christianity, teenage attraction, sexual desires, racial discrimination, and so much more. I particularly related to X as she questioned faith.
What’s the point of God giving me life
if I can’t live it as my own?
Why does listening to his commandments
mean I need to shut down my own voice?
X’s words are very powerful. I felt it as I read it. The words that she writes down are brutally honest, and show various sides of her. Sometimes I recited the poems twice or thrice in my head, changing the intonations until it worked best according to me. I know that I can just listen to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author, but at that time I wanted to read it. When I tried the audiobook after finishing reading it first, I didn’t like it as much (but then maybe it’s because I’m not into audiobooks).
It’s just a poem,
Xiomara, I think.
But it felt more like a gift.
Sexism was brought out really well in the book. Xiomara has a twin brother, named Xavier whom she just refers to as “Twin”. The blatant contrast in how conservative families treat children based on their gender is seen through them. They’re wildly different in personalities and interests, but they’re also not treated the same now that they’re older because of their bodies.
And I think about all the things we could be
if we were never told our bodies were not built for them.
I did notice some similarities between X’s upbringing and mine. Particularly the parts about religion. Like X, I truly questioned my faith in high school. And I had around the exact same questions as her. I also related to her on the restrictions put on her about dating.
Mami’s Dating Rules
Rule 1. I can’t date.This bullshit. I feel it in my soul. My mum has these exact rules.
Rule 2. At least until I’m married.
Rule 3. See rules 1 and 2.
There are so many things in this book which hit me in the heart and there were so many sentences and phrases which were concise brutal truths. I can talk for a long time, mentioning every single thing that this book deals with, but I’d rather you read it yourself. You should experience firsthand the impact that this book had on me.
I recommend this book to everyone, especially if you want a serious book to read which will grab your heart and head while reading it.