In The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Harlem teen Xiomara has a lot to deal with. She is just starting to notice boys, beginning to have serious questions about her Catholic faith, and suspecting that her twin brother is gay. She also writes poetry, but hides it from everyone—especially her intensely strict mother. However, when a boy she likes returns her feelings, and when a poetry club starts meeting at the same time as her confirmation class, she finds herself at a crossroads.
First, this truly is a book meant to be heard. It is told entirely in verse about a poet getting into spoken word poetry, and the audiobook is performed by the author herself. And Acevedo’s voice and delivery is fantastic; I loved listening to her. If you read this book (which I recommend), try to get access to the audio version. I can’t help feeling the print version would be lacking something, but I’m biased now.
The characters are excellent: Xiomara is complex, relatable, and has a strong narrative voice. You really feel she is real and root for her as she faces different struggles. Her twin brother Xavier (called Twin throughout the novel) and Xiomara’s crush Aman are also great. And side characters like her parents, friends, pastor, and favorite teacher help this small Harlem setting feel entirely realistic. I loved getting to know all these people.
I also love how this story is structured. Some things Xiomara says have powerful imagery, especially in the sections that compare and contrast her drafts, and then final products, of her English assignments. Through these, we are given a clear view of what she really thinks and feels while also seeing how she portrays herself to others. Overall, the writing in this book is spectacular.
The themes and topics of this book are deep and important: feeling free to express oneself, relations between parents and children, questions about faith and religion, and the complexities of remaining devout while also learning about love and romance. These are mature, but presented in a perfect way so that both teens and adults can appreciate them.
In the end, The Poet X is amazing. With strong characters, an addicting storyline, and impactful, memorable writing, it’s one of the best debuts I’ve read recently. Even if you aren’t a fan of poetry, I highly encourage you to give this one a try. I also have the audiobook of Acevedo’s new novel, With the Fire on High, and I can’t wait to start that one!
Overall rating: 9/10