Book review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

I picked up this book in a classroom one day while substituting for another class, and it was a super easy and fast read, but with complex themes that would be good for a reader in the coming-of-age years, someone confronting the drive to be independent of parents and their beliefs and someone examining their sexual awakening. The novel is written in poetry, and it follows a girl names Xiomara Batista. Her body develops early and conspicuously, and as she writes in one of the first poems, the boys who made fun of her now ask her to send pictures of herself.

The poems help to characterize her Harlem neighborhood and her heritage, as well as how her family’s strong beliefs factor into her life. Her Mami wants her to be religious, but Xiomara doesn’t feel that anymore, at least not to the extent that her mother, who doesn’t seem happy with her own life, demands it. Xiomara is busy juggling her family’s expectations with the taunts she hears from her peers. This all potentially changes when she is invited to join her school’s poetry slam club, and she is torn between her Mami’s expectations of her and her drive to dream and express herself in a poetic way. At the same time, she’s experiencing a sexual awakening, dating and daydreaming about a student named Aman, something else that would be forbidden given her mother’s strong religious views—not to mention Xiomara’s twin being gay.

What I really enjoy about the book is that it can be read quickly for plot, but the poetry begs you to slow down and appreciate its figurative language. At the same time, the words are accessible to many levels of readers, and while the ideas in the poems are complex, they are very accessible without insulting the reader or oversimplifying ideas. It’s definitely in the young adult category, and maturity is required for some of the themes, but the language is rarely explicit.



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