By Lacy Blanton, Guest Journalist
“Even with the tambourine and festive singing, these days, church seems less party and more prison” is one of many quotes and themes from the ingenious book “The Poet X” that simply took my breath away through amazement.
“The Poet X” is a 2018 young adult novel written by Harlem-based author and poet Elizabeth Acevedo, published by “HarperTeen”.
The story follows fifteen-year-old Dominican girl Xiomara Batista living in the vibrant city of Harlem, New York. A land home to thousands of Afro-Latino identities, and its culturally rich street life that her overprotective Mamí shields her from. Xiomara (who also goes by “Xio” or “X”) hides the beautiful talent of her writing in a notebook. In it, she lyrically pours out her thoughts and documents the struggles in her daily life. These struggles include frequent sexual harassment from men, questioning the authenticity of her birth-religion and Mamí making that freedom of choice difficult for her, and her confused feelings after a blossoming crush on a boy at her school. X discovers and is captured by the Black-based culture of slam poetry, which she begins to explore within her notebook. Living in a world where people try to keep her silent, X learns the power of her poetic words and fights for them to be heard.
A feature that makes this novel compelling is how it is written from an in-verse perspective. Each chapter is reminiscent of a page from a notebook, and almost every chapter is a poem that documents X’s life. Each poem or “entry” has a style that is easy-to-follow. They’re typically short but powerfully clever nonetheless. (A huge plus for those who struggle paying attention when reading.) Other details are that each chapter is dated to a month and a day of the week. All of this helps create an atmosphere that you’re truly immersed into X’s world, that you really are reading the notebook of an impressionable but talented teenager. And with that, rooting for the main character feels essential. The shockingly realistic plot and brutal honesty is also an immense factor to the novel’s merit. The summary given above are just several of the many heavy topics that the story tackles, but all are dealt with in a respectful and believable fashion. The novel is loaded with memorable quotes that’ll make readers’ fingers snap and go “mmm” with their mouths, most likely linked to the straightforwardness. As X and her family are Latinx, there are several chapters or phrases completely written in Spanish. Additionally helping the novel contain a piece of realism and have the readers feel even more immersed in the protagonist’s culture. Above else, the message of speaking out was the true shining star. Acevedo didn’t just write this book, she made this with true love and passionate words.
I, like many reviewers that have marveled over this book, are touched by this story. X’s passions, struggles, and life holds a mirror to mine. Not only as a person of color, high schooler, and twin, but also as a writer and poet wishing for my work to be heard.
Since its release, many schools across the US have outright banned the book for its inclusive themes of sexuality in adolescence, and claims of it being ‘anti-religious’ and having ‘alternative beliefs’. What these schools fail to realize is that “The Poet X” was not written for controversy, spectacle, or shock. It is a daring book that tells the real lives and situations of numerous individuals. From a current teenager’s coming-of-age to a grown adult who had similar experiences to X’s growing up. Acevedo’s central message about the power of voice alongside the art that is slam poetry within this story is a message for all to hear. It is absolutely going to save and inspire many.