The Poet X
Winner - Carnegie Medal (2019)
Winner - Globe-Horn Award for Best Fiction (2018)
Winner - Printz Award For Best Young Adult Novel (2018)
When I got the opportunity to read this story, I jumped with excitement. Finally, a voice in YA that I could relate to. As a Puerto Rican who loves to read in English, I grew up reading mostly from the points of view of young white girls. I noticed, from an early age, the lack of Latinx representation in the Young Adult genre. While reading this book, I felt both seen and heard, not just because the story centers on a young Latina, but also because it is about a girl who loves storytelling just as much as I do. The Poet X story is an everygirl story and is a fast, easy-to-read novel that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.
“Words give people permission to be their fullest self.”
This quote from The Poet X perfectly encapsulates the story’s primary theme and meaning. Xiomara Batista is a young teen living in Harlem. Her Dominican parents are strict, extremely religious, and have very high expectations for their only daughter. But Xiomara is entering adolescence, and as her body starts to change, so does her mindset. She starts questioning her parents as she struggles to find herself, and as a result, her relationship with her mother grows tense. When Xiomara discovers her school’s poetry club, she quickly finds out that the perfect way to figure out who she is, is through the power of her words. With every poem she writes, she exposes parts of herself that she didn’t know were there.
This is a story about growing up; about family, first loves, and freedom. It is also about the power of poetry and the way writing can act as a mirror to our souls. In writing, we understand who we are. Xiomara’s story feels very familiar as it depicts adolescence in one of the most real ways I’ve ever read. Elizabeth Acevedo touches on everything I remember about being a teen: the awkward changes of your body, the ever-present feeling of being watched – absolutely horrible despite the simultaneous burning desire to be noticed – the hormones, the fights with our parents, questioning all that we’ve been taught our whole life to believe, and finally, the constant struggle of not knowing, not in the slightest bit, who we are other than our parents’ offspring. In this way, The Poet X is a universal story that, despite cultural backgrounds, shows we’re all the same. It also feels both unique and familiar and I believe Latinxs will feel both represented and identified.
Xiomara’s story is written in verse. If you’re a little hesitant about reading a book written almost like a collection of poems, hear me out. Elizabeth Acevedo (Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths) could not have done a better job structuring The Poet X. The format not only fits the story perfectly, as we see how Xiomara grows more comfortable with herself when she finds poetry, but also fits the character and her rhythmic culture. The Poet X is almost musical. When I was reading it, I could hear it. Since Xiomara’s parents are from the Dominican Republic, birthplace of one of the standard Latin dances (merengue), what better way to tell a Latina’s story than with a little rhythm?
One of my favorite things about reading is learning about the author’s background and understanding where the story comes from. Elizabeth Acevedo was the teacher of an eighth grade English class composed mostly of Latinx students when she first started writing this story. In an interview with Epic Reads, Acevedo mentions that her students commented on the lack of Latinx representation in stories. This inspired her to write The Poet X. She also talks about her relationship with slam poetry and her introduction to poetry writing at only eight years of age. She began performing her poems when she was around twelve.
Elizabeth Acevedo should be proud. She’s written a powerful novel filled with color, rhythm, and youth. She was able to create a coming of age story that feels real to me. What’s more, The Poet X won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, as well as a slew of other awards, and it is inspiring to know that Elizabeth Acevedo and The Poet X achieved this. I don’t get to read many YA Latina-centered stories, so reading a book that is so thoroughly immersed in Latin culture was extremely refreshing.