Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Latinx: Dominican Republic, Dominican-American
*Thank you to Harper Collins Teens for sending me a copy of The Poet X!
Written entirely in verse, The Poet X is the story of Xiomara: a teenager who is learning to navigate and cope with the clash of changing and static elements of her life. Struggling to balance her relationships between a high school boy, goody-two-shoes best friend, strict mother, disconnected father, and her twin brother who’s grown distant, Xiomara seeks comfort in her newfound love for poetry. The Poet X explores the dynamism of a girl’s life as she discovers and grows into new versions of herself.
A secret lover of poetry, Xiomara is unable to express herself because of her strict, traditional, religious mother, who insists she spends her time studying for the classes she is taking at the Catholic church for her Confirmation. The two’s relationship is constantly strained by Xiomara’s budding curiosity about life, and her mother’s decided view of life.
Xiomara and her mother’s relationship hangs by its last thread when Xiomara’s teacher recognizes her natural writing talents and she is invited to join her school’s poetry club. The club meets at the same time as her Catholic Confirmation classes, and Xiomara finds herself stuck between following her mother’s rules and following her intuition.
Xiomara’s relationships with her family, friends, and classmates become the root to many of her struggles. Each member of Xiomara’s family has a different view of life and handles situations differently. It was refreshing to see diversity in people’s point of views within one family.
The poetry itself is skillfully formed to parallel the scenes in the book. Moments of hopelessness and disappointment are paired with short lines and stanzas, and fluttery, happy scenes with flirtation and excitement are accompanied by lengthy, flowery poems. The poetic form of the book forces the reader to fill in certain blanks of the text that aren’t included in the restricting format, creating a more intimate connection between the reader and the characters.
Homophobia, sexism, sexual harassment, and religious pressures are just some of the social issues Acevedo tackles in the novel. At times, the multitude of social issues makes the text a bit heavy. As a reader, the overflow of politically charged topics may feel a bit preachy. However, the weight of these very real parts of life on Xiomara are representative of the awareness teenagers have of these situations and the overwhelm it causes for them.
A unique element of the book is the inclusion of first and final drafts of Xiomara’s assignments for her English class. The difference between her honest, open, poetic first drafts and stale, generic finished product speaks to the distance students put between themselves and their schoolwork out of personal embarrassment and pressures to conform to the education system’s expectations.
The coming of age story that wraps up teenage struggles in beautiful poetry, The Poet X is as revelatory as it is grounded in the harsh, beautiful realities of life. Xiomara’s transformation will speak to readers of all ages. Acevedo does a marvelous job of conveying the depth, diversity, and challenge that comes with being a teenager.
Rating: 9 out of 10 stars