My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

This book was part of my April box from Pagehabit, so it was a bit of a surprise!  I am usually NOT into poetry, and I have only ever read one other book written in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson (very good, by the way...).  

The Poet X tells the story of Xiomara, a fifteen-year-old Dominican-American girl living in Harlem, New York.  This is a powerful story of the clash between mothers and daughters, between maintaining your heritage and being an American, between self-loathing and self acceptance.  This novel blew me away!

What I Liked:
Book Structure:
As I said, this book is told through a series of mostly poems, some short, others quite long.  The title of each poem is as telling as the verse.  I also loved that other entries are drafts of homework assignments.  This structure allows the reader to really delve into the life of high schooler Xiomara in a way that a more traditional narrative style would not.  Teens today communicate with each other in short bursts such as texts or posts to social media, and this book's style reflects that.

The story is told through the voice of Xiomara, as she tries to navigate her Sophomore year of high school.   Her attention-grabbing curves have caused her all kinds of attention, giving her mixed messages from her classmates, her Catholic religion, and her mother.  Boys (an men) catcall and tell her she must want It.  The Church tells her to resist temptation.  And her mother literally tells her she can't date boys until after she finishes college!

As Xiomara grapples with feelings of shame over her normal sexual feelings, she uses her fist rather than her voice to show her anger when boys grab her, or when her twin brother gets bullied.  She knows this is not helping her, but she really has no other way to express herself at the beginning of the story.

I loved how Xiomara matures over the course of the book.  She finds her voice through poetry and learns to make different choices.

Xiomara's mother, Altagracia is as traditional as they come.  She goes to church every day and her natural inclination is to see her daughter as a screw-up who will let herself be carried away by lust.  Although the book never directly addresses it, I can't help but think Altagracia sees herself in her daughter.  She keeps telling anyone who will listen that she really intended to become a nun.  But I think this is the mom re-writing her past to hide the fact that she was actually a real young woman with real sexual feelings who got seduced by a ladies man.  When mother and daughter are so much alike, conflict is almost a guarantee.

There are several things happening at once in this story:  Xiomara going through Confirmation, Xiomara developing feelings for a boy, and Xiomara discovering poetry.  All of these are momentous enough, but she also has more and more conflict with her mother.  This comes to a boiling point that spills over to a dramatic conclusion.

This book filled me with such strong emotions as I thought back on my own teen years, and the conflicts between my traditional Mexican culture, my Catholic beliefs, and trying to be a modern young person.  The book perfectly captures how much pressure first and second generation teens have as they try to please their parents, but also themselves.


Release Date:  March 6th, 2018

Genre:  YA Contemporary

Publisher:  Harper Teen

Author:  Elizabeth Acevedo

Page Length:  357 pages

Source:  Bought

Format:  Hardback book

Recommendation:  A powerful coming-of-age book told in verse.  This author has a strong voice that is exciting to read.

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2018 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 5 books toward her goal of 120 books.


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