I am a book reviewer for NetGalley, which means I received this book for free in exchange for a review. Click here for more information.
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genre/category: Poetry/Young Adult/Contemporary Fiction
Where can I buy it? Here
Release date: 6th March 2018
I’ve been studying so much poetry recently – protest poetry, mostly focusing on war poets. So when I saw a YA novel written entirely in poetry up for review, I had to apply for it. Frankly, I could do with a break from the seriousness.
The truth is, The Poet X contains a lot of serious themes (although obviously very different ones). It’s written from the perspective of Xiomara, a tall, almost sixteen-year-old Dominican girl living in the Bronx.
The book covers a lot of topics. The first I wanted to talk about was the way Xiomara examines herself and her changing body. She faces an onslaught of inappropriate comments from boys (and men) based entirely on her post-puberty body shape. Unwanted leering and grabbing becomes everyday life for her. She writhes with the injustice of it, particularly as her mother seems to blame her for it. Xiomara grapples with guilt and anger as she starts to see her own body as ‘trouble’.
There’s a love story in the book, too, and she explores the excitement and tension she feels as it develops.
The book also covers Xiomara’s struggles with God. Being raised in a very strict Catholic household, she finds herself questioning her church and its’ teachings, her own belief in God, and the idea passed down by her mother that women’s bodies are nothing more than inconvenient ‘stumbling blocks’ for boys. She searches for God, but finds Him silent in the face of her troubles.
But the main conflict of the book comes from Xiomara’s relationship with her mother. She grieves the loss of closeness that they once had, and wonders why it came to be. She feels the heavy weight of her mothers’ expectations, which don’t align with her own ideas for her life. Seeing the two of them struggling to relate to each other is a very emotional and raw thing to read, particularly as it comes to a head at the end of the book.
The Poet X really came alive for me when Xiomara realises that writing poetry is her gift, and has the power to set her free. She realises, after a tentative start, that it is writing that will ultimately bring her healing:
‘The way words say what I mean,
how they twist and turn language,
how they connect with people.
How they build community.
I finally know that all of those
‘I’ll never, ever, ever’
stemmed from me being afraid but not even they can stop me. Not anymore.’
It was a really interesting and emotional read. As always when I read YA books, I always feel a little pang of ‘ugh, younger me would have appreciated this more.’ I would have been able to connect with her school troubles more at 16 than I do at nearly 30 (argh). I still enjoyed it, though, because I do like YA. If you like poetry – or if you’re looking for a young adult book and you’ve never really considered reading poetry before – I’d recommend checking it out.