The Poet X

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genres: Poetry, Young Adult
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (Read Apr. 2018)

“Burn it! Burn it.
This is where the poems are,” I say,
thumping a fist against my chest.
“Will you burn me? Will you burn me, too?”

Yes! I loved this!

Xiomara is the teenage daughter of Dominican Republican immigrants. Her mom is extremely religious and is adamant that Xiomara be confirmed in the catholic church. Xiomara has always been a little rough around the edges, getting in fights to protect her twin brother and against the lewd remarks men in her neighbourhood make about her body. She just wants to be a normal teenager and date boys like the other girls her age.

She feels repressed in her day to day life and turns to poetry to express herself, which she records in her private journal. She really enjoys writing her English assignments and when her English teacher, Ms. Galiano starts a slam poetry club, she is intrigued because it feels like the poetry is just bursting out of her. But the poetry club meets at the same time as her confirmation class, which Mami would never allow her to miss.

At the same time, Xiomara meets a boy, Aman. She just wants to spend time with him like any other teenager. But her mother is strictly opposed to dating and she is forced to hide her relationship with him. She questions everything in her life, from her mother’s strict rules to the religion that is being forced on her. It becomes increasingly difficult to hide what’s going on in her life and Xiomara becomes more and more at odds with her mother. Poetry becomes the only way she can expresses the conflict she feels building inside her.

I have read so many books lately about latinx teenagers and I have learned so much about latinx family culture (although most of the books were about Mexican culture). What has been hardest for me to understand is the relationship between these American-born daughters and their immigrant mothers. Every single book I’ve read has had the same conflict of strict latina mothers and their teenage daughters trying to break away from the confines of their mother’s perspective and rules. I grew up in a religious home as well, but I can’t imagine the frustration of mother and daughter not being able to relate to each other. My mom can have a pretty strong personality, but she was never anything but supportive and understanding of where I was coming from. I think the difference is that we both grew up in Canada and shared the same cultural perspective, whereas Xiomara and her mother grew up in very different circumstances and struggled to relate to one another.

I always talk about liking gritty books with gritty writing and this is another great example. I recently read I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and The Authentics at the same time and loved the first and disliked the second because one book was so gritty and authentic while the other seemed to have this protective layer of film over the story, lacking any real emotional depth. I had the same experience with this book as I read it at the same time as I read Love, Hate & Other Filters, which I felt had that same disconnect between the emotional potential of the story and the actual depth the author achieved. I am here for the emotions and Acevedo was not afraid to go there in this book. It’s what makes one book great and another book sadly mediocre.

The poetry in this book was fantastic. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I really love books like this that are not a collection of poems, but a whole story told in poetry. I’ve already picked Brown Girl Dreaming as one of my reading challenge books for April, which I understand is written in a similar fashion, so I’m excited to pick that one up later this month! Definitely recommend this book!

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