The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevedo (ARC Review)

February 12, 2018

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

TITLE: The Poet X
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Acevedo
RELEASES: March 6th, 2018; HarperTeen
GENRE: Contemporary/Poetry
SYNOPSIS: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.


“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?”

I’ve always been fond of stories told through verse, and I love Elizabeth’s poetry, so when I learned that she was writing her first YA novel, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I never once doubted that I would love it, but I didn’t know it could mean so much to me. I didn’t have a clue that I was in for such a raw, honest ride about how religion impacts children and how detrimental it can be to try keeping a teen from blossoming into their own bodies and sexuality. I know The Poet X is a love story to poetry, but as someone who was raised in a sheltered, religious home, terrified of my own body and the things it wanted, this is a love story to those kids, too.


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.

→ body acceptance ←
Every teen’s path has a few major obstacles, and Xiomara’s are her body, and the ways people view her for it. At 15-going-on-16, she’s a tall Dominican girl with a thick figure, and she laments the different struggles it causes her – whether it’s boys (and men) giving her unwanted attention, or her mother blaming her for it.

When your body takes up more room than your voice you are always the target of well-aimed rumors, which is why I let my knuckles talk for me. I’ve forced my skin just as thick as I am.

→ rape culture ←
Xiomara’s young, but she’s already so painfully aware of what rape culture does to the society she lives in. She constantly is harassed, whether it’s a cat-call on the sidewalk or a stranger’s hand on her curves, but her experience is depicted so honestly. I think an unfortunate number of women, of all ages, will read this story and relate to the nauseating mixture of guilt and anger brought on by these words and gestures we never, ever asked for – unless breathing in a woman’s body is “asking for it”.

Trying to unhear my mother turn my kissing ugly, my father call me the names all the kids have called me since I grew breasts.

→ love and self-love ←
Meanwhile, throughout the struggles of living in this rape culture, Xiomara wants to live, and be happy, and find love. She has a sweet, understated blossom of romance with Aman, a classmate from Trinidad, and even explores the ways in which she can become comfortable in her own skin: learning to see her body as beautiful, not oversized, and discovering what she wants and needs. (By the way, can we please get more books normalizing teen girls who explore their own bodies like this one does? We’ve tried this whole “girls don’t crave sex like boys do” approach in YA for way too long, and it’s clearly not getting anyone anywhere.)

And I knew then what I’d known since my period came: my body was trouble. I had to pray the trouble out of the body God gave me. My body was a problem. And I didn’t want any of these boys to be the ones to solve it.

→ abuse ←
The other big struggle in Xiomara’s life comes in the form of her family, and her mother’s religious views. If you are uncomfortable with religion being portrayed in a candid and sometimes negative light, I’ll go ahead and say that The Poet X may be one you should go into with caution, as Xiomara does raise a lot of questions about the church, scriptures, and God. She has a hard time coming to terms with the devout beliefs of her loved ones, and the gap between her religious views and her mother’s come to blows (literally) throughout the story. There is an honest depiction of parental abuse in this story, and her mother’s excuses are consistently rooted in her religious beliefs, which I know may make some of my religious friends uncomfortable, so I wanted to offer fair warning on that.

When I’m told to have faith in the father, the son, in men – and men are the first ones to make me feel so small.

→ religion and women ←
There’s also quite a lot of discussion regarding how girls are raised in devoutly religious households, and how common it is that they are taught that their bodies are a stumbling block for the men in their lives. Xiomara finds herself frustrated by the idea that she is expected to carry the full burden of what men do to her body, and muses a few concerns about how absent she feels that God is from the objectification and abuse she faces. There’s also a bit of talk about how queer individuals are treated in the church, as Xiomara’s twin brother is gay and closeted, and the siblings feel a substantial amount of terror regarding how he’s going to be treated if he is outed.

And I think about all the things we could be if we were never told our bodies were not built for them.

→ final thoughts ←
At its core, The Poet X is a story about overcoming the ideals that our families push upon us, learning how to know who we are and what we want, and loving ourselves when the world doesn’t make it easy. It’s about family, and the ways that we try to make situations work, and the desperation with which we must remember that, at the end of the day, we have to keep ourselves happy and safe – no matter the relationships it may cost us. It’s about body positivity and loving the skin that we’re in, and fighting back against a society that reduces us to cup sizes and the length of our skirts. It is a beautiful, empowering, diverse, feminist tale, and I will undoubtedly be recommending it to everyone, but especially to any young girls who need to hear that they are whole, they are good, and they deserve happiness and freedom.

Content warnings: slut-shaming, body-shaming, homophobia, parental abuse, bigotry

All quotes come from an unfinished ARC and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to HarperTeen for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!


More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

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    1. Destiny! I LOVE your review!!! I was already pretty stoked for this book but now March 6th can’t come fast enough! Beautifully written, I just an’t wait to read it & gush about it in your DM’s 🙂

    1. This sounds like a very important story, I didn’t know much about it, but I’m so glad I read your review!

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