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.
I tend to avoid hyped books like the plague. Show me a book with 33,760 ratings and a 4.43 star Goodreads average and I will probably be very apprehensive about reading it. When averages are that good, I get scared away. What if I’m the only person on the entire planet who dislikes it?
Well, that fear is what happened with The Poet X. I knew it was supposed to be amazing. I’d read countless reviews saying so. So, naturally, I didn’t read it for a good year and a half. And then the mood struck, and I checked out the audiobook, which is narrated by the author and is absolutely incredible.
I am blown away. I loved this so much.
Xiomara’s struggle with religion really reminded me of my own feelings when I was her age. I’d been raised in a religious family, I’d gone to 13 years of Catholic school, and all of a sudden it was like these things I’d grown up taking as fact were now questions in my mind. I think this is a 100% normal and healthy thing that happens in your late teenage years and it was so nice to see that struggle showcased in such a well-written book.
Another thing that I thought the book addressed well was sexism and underlying misogyny. I appreciated that, more than anyone else in her life, it was Xiomara’s mother who perpetuated the idea that women needed to be pure and perfect in order to be desirable for marriage. (Because, of course, heterosexual marriage is The Most Important.) Even seemingly innocuous things that Xiomara does, like using a tampon instead of a pad, cause issues. And when she’s caught kissing a boy? Oh no.
I can really go either way with books that are written in verse. A lot of the time, it just feels like sentences broken up into several lines, but it really, really worked here. The emotion was right there, in every word, and Xiomara just felt so real. I already have a hold on With the Fire on High and can’t wait until I have the chance to experience that book too.
Have you read The Poet X? Is it on your TBR?
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