Review by Maya Auguston
How do you express your truest self in a world that says everything about you is wrong? The 16 year old Xiomara at the heart of The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo’s enthralling YA novel-in-verse, wrestles with this very question. Xio navigates growing up, falling in love, and finding her voice as a young, afro-latina woman. Through poems written in Xiomara’s voice, the novel explores how the young poet understands her identity and seeks to forge her own path beyond the expectations and limitations placed on her by her parents, community, and by society as whole. In one episode, for example, Xio finds herself hiding a new relationship with a boy at her school from strict Catholic parents who see her burgeoning womanhood as something dangerous that needs to be controlled. As Xio struggles to reconcile her family’s religious and cultural beliefs with her own desires, she comes to realize that she has the power to be the author of her own story. Over the course of the novel, Xiomara uses poetry as an outlet for her desires, frustrations, heartbreak, and, finally, as a way to speak her truth and declare ownership of her own life.
Xio’s distinctive voice and Acevedo’s sharp, emotional verses make The Poet X nearly impossible to put down, as each poem flows beautifully into the next. By foregrounding both the uniqueness and universality of Xio’s experiences and challenges, the novel pushes us to move beyond any understanding of identity which essentializes the lived experiences of individuals and toward an understanding of the many stories there are to be told. It is supremely effective in its portrayal of the many ways that Xiomara’s intersectional identity — as a woman, a person of Afro-Latino heritage, an adolescent, a Catholic, a sister, a daughter, and an artist — informs the way she moves through her world. In doing so, it offers many possible points of connection, identification, and challenge for young readers. The novel-in-verse medium is engaging, and the emotion and clarity of the writing will resonate with any reader who has lived through the tumult of adolescence. In telling the story through Xiomara’s poetry, Acevedo poignantly illustrates the power of art and literature as a tool for understanding, self-acceptance, and liberation.
The Poet X. (2018). Elizabeth Acevedo. Harper. 368 pgs.
Maya Auguston is pursuing her teaching license and MEd. in English Language Arts education. In addition to reading and teaching, she loves frequenting the many awesome theaters around the Twin Cities.