The Poet X
A NovelBook - 2018
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Review: Note: The Poet X includes physical and religious abuse, sexual harassment, and references to homophobia.
One of the best things about a novel in verse is how immediate the character’s voice can feel. Xiomara is an outstanding character who is trying to figure out how to express herself and coming to terms with the fact that what her church teaches (and her mother staunchly believes) does not reflect the world as she sees it or the way she wants to live. She is sharp, witty, and always bracing for a fight, and some of my favorite poems are the contrasts between what she wants to say and what she actually feels she can say (e.g., her homework assignments).
The Poet X is a great coming of age story. Xiomara pretty much does it all—falling in love, questioning religion, clashing with family, finding an outlet for her passion, calling out rape culture and sexism—and good times and the bad help her discover who she truly is and what she believes. Xiomara discovering and falling in love with slam poetry while we’re reading her poetry is a beautiful experience. It made me want to pull up some of my favorite Sarah Kay videos (yes, I had a slam poetry phase in my 20s) and just put them on repeat.
Even without knowing author Elizabeth Acevedo’s impressive and extensive body of slam poetry work, her love for the form was clear throughout the book. And so was Xiomara’s. I loved every time Xiomara made it to the poetry club or interacted with the other members, especially Ms. Galiano. Women mentoring other women is one of my favorite things, and having this teacher repeatedly reach out to Xiomara and encourage her talents was honestly inspiring.
But Xiomara’s story isn’t just a steady upward climb of honing her poetic talents; it touches on several more difficult topics. She is keenly aware of how much rape culture permeates her life and how much her mother buys into it and into the church’s sexism. There are some awful, painful scenes where Xiomara is punished (or insulted) for her budding sexuality and religious doubt. While there is a mostly hopeful conclusion to some of this, it left me concerned that Xiomara had only really bought herself some breathing space with her mother. (But that’s my pessimistic self.)
The romantic relationship between Xiomara and Aman is very well done, and Aman is one of the many interesting supporting characters in the book. One of the best traits a romantic lead can have, in my opinion, is consistently demonstrating a desire to listen. When Xiomara felt like she had to be silent, Aman was there, encouraging her with her poetry. (Another excellent trait is knowing when to apologize and how to make up for doing wrong.) I was also very fond of Twin (Xiomara’s twin brother, Xavier) and Caridad, as well as Ms. Galiano.
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