When I shared that I was going to be reading The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such uniform choruses of praise and excitement and enthusiasm. So many of my reader and blogging friends, regardless of their distinct reading niche, tastes, and preferences, all agreed on one thing: The Poet X was an incredible book, was absolutely loved, and a favourite among many.
Carrying everyone’s love for this book as well as my immense expectations of this book, I am here to tell you this: listen to the people who are telling you to read The Poet X, because they are right. The Poet X is a tour de force, Acevedo’s words a force to be reckoned with, and one of the best books I have read this year so far.
A searing story about a teen’s relationship with the world
Written entirely in verse and slam poetry, The Poet X follows Xiomara, a fifteen year old Dominican teen with a fierce and loyal heart who fights with her fist (to fend off advances from local boys) and fights with the private words in her leather notebook. Acevedo powerfully explores all areas of Xiomara’s life, particularly with how she grapples with adolescence and identity. Not only does the story examine the relationships she has with people, in particular her family life and the fraught and tenuous relationship with her deeply religious mother, and her tentative and exciting new relationship with a boy, The Poet X also explores the relationship Xiomara has with the world, her body, and her Dominican and religious identity.
Portraying her day-to-day life, readers will see how Xiomara wrestles with the perceptions that others have of her, and the ways she resists these perceptions and how these perceptions shape her to be the person she is becoming. Acevedo explores this blurry spacse that Xiomara treads, as we see how the intersections of her identity and the complexities of her life weave together to provide a holistic and thorough examination of Xiomara’s life. The shining beacon of hope in this story is how Xiomara finds a tether of who she wants to become in poetry – and how she finds peace in poetry, how it inspires her, how she expresses herself with it, and how it ignites a passion that empowers her to be the person she wants to become. The Poet X shows how poetry, something Xiomara is passionate in, helps her understand the world around her and helps her find her voice.
About familial expectations and religion
A significant portion of the story is Xiomara questioning and struggling with her religious beliefs and Catholic faith, and how this causes conflict and friction between her and her religious mother. The candid portrayal of how religion and familial expectation intersect is one of reasons why The Poet X is so emotional, evocative, and hard-hitting. With ever-increasing pressure for Xiomara to commit to the Catholic faith from her mother, The Poet X explores the heavy weight of family expectations, and how such expectations – and the thought of going against those expectations – can shape and dictate the relationships that we have with our family.
Furthermore, her mother’s religious beliefs and expectations also shape other areas of Xiomara’s life. Not allowed to date, not allowed to attend her school’s slam poetry club, and being consistently compared to her Xavier or ‘Twin’, her twin brother who starkly contrasts her rough edges and tough exterior, The Poet X examines the oppressive and stifling effect of such heavy expectations from family members, and how Xiomara wrestles with these expectations and her conflict and, ultimately, how she eventually finds power in her own words.
About growing up and the conflict of growing in
The Poet X is acute in its insight, not only because it portrays how Xiomara perceives the world around her and carves her place in it, but the story also portrays how Xiomara is forcefully placed into rigid boxes and expectations of how she should be and exist. From things as simple as walking down the street to things as challenging and fraught as navigating a new relationship, Xiomara is faced with critical voices of ways of how to be and how to exist and how to be proper and right, thus diminishing her way of being and exploring and her existence as a teenage Dominican girl.
Xiomara’s experiences of being confronted with criticism to diminish yourself and to take up as little room as possible incredibly relatable – so much that it almost hurt. Being a teenage girl is tough, not only do teens have to navigate their adolescence and the changes that come with it, but teenage girls are confronted with ideas that police behaviour, expression and growth, often at the cost of their passions, curiousity and expression to fit these neat boxes of what it means to be a teen girl – and for Xiomara, she has to grapple with religiosity, her body and sexuality as a teen and a girl, familial expectations, and being Dominican as well. At times, Xiomara had to diminish or hide parts of herself to fit these overwhelming expectations – an experience many teens will know extremely well.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
I don’t think I could ever do The Poet X justice with my review. It truly is phenomenal in every way. The poems on their own are sharp, brilliant, and absolutely bold, and is one of the most memorable, relatable, and most powerful books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I cannot recommend The Poet X enough – in fact, I firmly believe it’s required reading.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A Dominican teen explores faith, identity, and relationships through her poetry.
Perfect for: Readers who love to read stories in verse; readers, especially teens, who enjoy stories about adolescent experiences; readers who enjoy stories about identity and faith.
Think twice if: You aren’t a big fan of stories written in verse.
Genre: young adult, contemporary, poetry
Trigger/content warning: parental physical and emotional abuse, non-consensual sexual contact, anti-fat rhetoric (challenged)
I’m so thankful to everyone who yelled at me to read this book. I had to wait a long time for my turn to read The Poet X via the library, but it was absolutely worth the wait. I cannot wait to read Acevedo’s next book, With The Fire On High — I have no doubt that it will be splendid.
- Have you read The Poet X? What did you think of it?
- What is the last book that you read that was written in verse?