Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut YA novel The Poet X tells the story of fifteen-year-old Xiomara who lives in Harlem with her twin brother, whom she calls ‘Twin’) and her Dominican immigrant parents. She’s a good girl; she has no choice. Mami’s rules are law, and Xiomara wouldn’t dream of breaking them. But there are some things Xiomara can’t control. For example, she is “unhide-able”
Taller than even my father, with what Mami has always said/ was “a little too much body for such a young girl.”/ I am the baby fat that settled into D-cups and swinging hips/ so that the boys who called me a whale in middle school/ now ask me to send them pictures of myself in a thong.
She starts to question organized religion and at school, she finds herself drawn to her classmate, Aman. She starts keeping secrets from her mother because religious conviction is non-negotiable and Mami’s dating rules are written in stone: she can’t date until she’s married.
When her English teacher encourages Xiomara to write poetry, she discovers that she has a lot to say and there might actually be a way to say it. As she commits her thoughts to the page, her confidence grows.
…I know that I am ready to slam. / That my poetry has become something I’m proud of./ The way the 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 those/ I’ll never, ever, ever”/ stemmed from being afraid but not even they/ can stop me. Not anymore.
There’s no reason to be intimidated if you’ve never tried a novel written in verse. The writing is stripped down, these’s no pesky exposition, and it cuts straight to the bone. Xiomara is a thoughtful, intelligent character and you will be cheering her on as she finds the power of her own words.
I loved spending time with Xiomara. As an English teacher, I appreciated that words offered her an escape and comfort and eventually the freedom to speak her truth. I highly recommend The Poet X especially if you’ve never given a novel in verse a go.
Watch Elizabeth Acevedo talk about how the novel came to be: