Every Black or Latinx kid knows that their mother is basically the lord and savior. We are raised to obey our parents, to fear their chanclas and backhands. We are their second chance to be young so we have to be perfect. We can never ever embarrass them. We can never stay out too late, or go to parties without adults supervising, we must always dress with our pants pulled high and absolutely NO wrinkles on anything, AND we have to get our homework done on time or else.
Xiomara, 15, is suffocating under the weight of her Latinx mothers’ expectations. She is not the totally religious nun her mother wants her to be, just like her best friend, Caridad. Xiomara likes boys and wants a boyfriend, and she is losing faith in God. When has God ever been there for her? Not when grown men in her barrio catcall her, not when her mother screams that her maturing body is filthy and impure, and never when boys push her up against lockers, grabbing her butt, like she is nothing. So she learns to stand up for herself because no man or God ever has. She speaks with her fists and doesn’t trust anybody.
Like so many Afrolatinx girls before her, Xiomara is bursting with the words she has swallowed her entire life. Until one day, they burst out from inside of her, like a fire, cleansing the wounds her family and community have made. She learns the art of spoken word and begins competing in slam competitions, which is totally forbidden by her mother. Xiomara also dares to fall in love with a boy from school, a boy who treats her as if she is precious and beautiful, who feeds the fire within her, and helps her to burn bright. When her boyfriend and secret activities as a spoken word artist are discovered by her mother, Xiomara loses everything that has ever been precious to her—and she might not survive it.
The award-winning novel The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, is told completely in poems, so it feels as if you are reading Xio’s diary. Her voice is distinct and lyrical, without being abstract, and she is such a powerful character. I related to her struggle to be the person her mother wanted, her dying belief in a God she feels has abandoned her, and her struggle to love her body. This is a book every single girl needs to read! The Poet X shows that our bodies are not dirty, that girls do not deserve to be treated as if they are invisible, and that we deserve love, even if we do not believe it.
Reading this book made me feel like I was in high school again. It perfectly captures what it is to grow up, fall in love, and become a person—not just an extension of your parents. This is the perfect story for lovers of poetry, one you will likely never forget.
By Jesse E
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