My third book of this year’s 20 Books of Summer challenge is one that has been sat on my TBR shelf for way, WAY too long!
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
A coming of age tale about finding your voice and making a stand for what you want and what you believe in.
Xiomara is faced with a great deal of internal conflict as she tries to navigate a world dominated by the ways others perceive and treat her as well as their expectations of her.
With a highly religious mother, a father who’s barely there (and seems absent even when he’s present), a twin she’s close to but nothing like, and a faith that is being more than questioned, it’s a time of turmoil for Xiomara as she approaches confirmation (unwillingly), falls for a boy and has her first kiss (illicitly) and begins to question the status quo.
I’ve mentioned before how much I love a novel written in verse, and this was no exception to that rule.
As well as being the perfect format to write about Xiomara discovering her own voice as a poet and the way she uses poetry as an outlet to both express and deal with her feelings, the verse style also added grit and punch to the story.
I thought it also helped Xiomara’s background, home and culture shine – I especially loved the way Spanish words and phrases were interspersed, as well as the religious metaphors and images.
Likewise, I’ve mentioned before that contemporary YA isn’t really my thing but this is SO MUCH MORE than a sweet-but-angsty first-kiss-and-finding-yourself teen read.
The oppression, prejudice and expectation – both immediate from her mother and in a wider, cultural and societal sense – and how we see these threaten her twin brother too (despite initial appearances) make this a much more important and much more powerful read.
There is a thread of hope through this, but nothing is certain and Xiomara’s situation looks pretty hopeless at times. I really felt for her, but also – more importantly – I really, really admired her for so many reasons.
I don’t think my own adolescence or background could have been more different, but I still found such a lot to relate to and reflect on. I wish I’d had her strength and self-respect.
The thought of young women growing up reading this, seeing this and hopefully feeling more seen, more heard and more confident from it makes me glad.
Similarly, my own relationship with my mother was nothing like Xiomara’s, but I still found myself with all sorts of complicated thoughts and feelings about and towards her mother, their relationship and my own, as I read through.
Undoubtedly this would have been more black and white if I’d read it at the time, but it shows the depth of understanding and tenacity in the writing that Acevedo is so able to create a sympathy and understanding for Xiomara’s mother even as we root for Xiomara herself.
In a similar vein, I loved the way we saw Xavier (Twin)’s story through Xiomara’s too.
This was one of those books that provoked so many thoughts and feelings in me as I read. It’s a must-read and I can’t wait to get stuck in to Elizabeth’s next two books now too.