Something that you might not know about me is that I used to write poems. Lots of poems. I wrote about everything and nothing: being Haitian, whatever random topic my childhood best friend and I would choose to tackle, my undying love for Justin Timberlake (my affections have moved on to others since then — Hey M’Baku!). It was my way of journaling and coping with the world around me. So when I bought the book The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo at the Now We Rise Tour for Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood & Bone (book review coming!), I was more than ready to be swept away in the sweet rhythm of verse — especially after listening to Elizabeth Acevedo perform the poem “The First Words” live. Pero, tú no eres fácil! What I was not ready for was how clearly the emotions in The Poet X would resonate with me.
The Poet X is about a 15-year old girl named Xiomara Batista who lives in Harlem with her extremely devout Catholic mother, quiet and brilliant twin brother Xavier, and physically-there but emotionally-distant father. Xiomara is at the age where she’s beginning to form her own opinions about the world. While she might keep all of her thoughts to herself and present a silent facade to others, she’s not afraid to use her fists when the situation calls for it — especially since her curves have started to gain the attention of boys her age and (disgusting, leery) men alike.
The book starts: “In the Beginning Was the Word” so it’s quite clear that the story will tackle religion through the eyes of Xiomara. Very early on, Xio expresses her distaste for her confirmation classes because she’d rather be anywhere but there. While in class, she asks her best friend Caridad about her trip to the Dominican Republic, if she kissed any boys while she was there. And while Caridad is the well-behaved, God-fearing daughter that any parent would love, Xiomara is anything but. In fact, she’s really starting to question her beliefs about God, how women are treated in the church, and religion as a whole.
As the story progresses, Xiomara finds a love interest in her classmate Aman. Even though Xiomara knows that her mother would definitely not approve of her having a relationship, she can’t help but fall for the boy who takes the time to get to know her and really listens to everything she has to say. And just as Xiomara and Aman’s romance is starting to bud, Xio’s love for writing has evolved from something that she keeps to herself to something that she could potentially share with the world — through poetry.
Elizabeth Acevedo does an amazing job pulling you into Xiomara’s story. The tumultuous relationship that Xio has with her mother really brings up memories of my own teen years. While I can honestly say that my mom and I definitely weren’t as bad, we had a few moments where I couldn’t understand her and she couldn’t understand me. It was like we were speaking a different language and could never find that middle ground of comprehension. And unlike X, I was all loud, raging emotions and razor-sharp tongue. (Sorry Ma!)
Something that I really love about The Poet X is the fact that the verse format really acts as a character in and of itself. Acevedo brilliantly draws you through all of Xiomara’s inner-most thoughts as she reflects on all of the moving parts of her life: her religious beliefs, embracing her wonderful gift of writing through slam poetry, what it means to have a sibling who identifies as gay (especially as members of the church), her own sexuality, heartache, hormones, friendship, what it means to be a young adult finding your voice in the world, and so much more. And while there are many things that are tackled and discussed throughout this story, it doesn’t feel rushed, all building perfectly to a climax that will rip right through your heart. In a good way.
When I finished reading The Poet X, I couldn’t help but consider my own teen years and what it would’ve meant for me to have a book like this when I was 15. It would’ve been life changing. I know that 15-year-old Maika would definitely be able to see herself in Xiomara and find comfort in a story that was very much like her own. And when I finished reading this book, I teared up — not only because of how it made me relive the emotions of such a precarious age, but also because I know it will forever stand out in the hearts and minds of brown and black little girls everywhere.
So, if you couldn’t tell, I loved this book! It’s perfect for the teen in your life that needs to do some more reading. Or the teen inside you who would’ve loved to see themselves in a book. Read The Poet X. You won’t be disappointed.