Book Review: THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Penned in loving, sharp verse, The Poet X is a beautiful, excruciating love letter to teenagedom, slam poetry, and Afro-Latina girls.

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. 

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This has been on my TBR for a long time, sitting unread because I am a fool who doesn’t know what’s good for me. I finally bumped it up the list because Acevedo’s sophomore YA, With The Fire On High, just dropped with a bang.

Oh my goodness. You were all right. Everything I heard about this book was right. This is the kind of book that makes you want to sweep everything else off of your five-star shelf to make room. The pure quality is unparalleled.

I’m not exaggerating when I say this book should be our generation’s Catcher in the Rye. I know some of you are probably going to read that and gag. How can I compare this vibrant, raw Afro-Latinx beauty to that midcentury white bread whine-fest we all had to read in high school?

I know, I know. And I’m not a huge fan of Catcher, but I think its cultural position is earned. Here’s the point: Many hold up Catcher as a novel that could help define that age and that generation. It told a story of an introspective young person being thrust into an adult world he isn’t ready for and knows all too well is dark and corrupting. He is desperately searching for someone, anyone, to listen to him, but not even knowing what he would say if someone did. And that story is told not primarily through story but through voice: a carefully drawn, naturalistic first-person writing style that is inseparable from character and meaning.

As different as these books are (and they are extremely different books), they take on the coming-of-age story with strikingly similar angles. In a just world, The Poet X will top reading lists for high schoolers across the English-speaking world.

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The Poet X is marketed and referred to as a “novel in verse,” which… doesn’t exactly gel with what I think a novel is… but I don’t really mind. It’s enough of the experience of reading a novel that it makes sense to put it in the same category.

This is one of those books that makes me plan a reread as soon as I finish. In this case, I want to make sure I go through the whole thing again (it’s not that long, to be honest) with a print copy.

I read this time with the audiobook, which I firmly believe is the right call if you have the means. I always like hearing author-read audio productions, but Elizabeth Acevedo, being a renown slam poet herself, brings a completely different level of skill to the project. Do not miss.

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