discover your poetic possibilities
Some novels-in-verse read like separate poems strung together as story. The Poet X reads like a novel first—with the bonus that it’s told in verse through the strong voice of Xiomara.
Early on, 15-year-old Xiomara explains her tough exterior. She is tall and well-developed. The boys call to her and grab her. Jealous girls talk about her. “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.” In truth, she’s never even held hands with a boy because her religiously zealous, harsh, Catholic mother forbids it. Her father isn’t much help. Seemingly present in body only, he said at her complicated birth, “Pero, tú no eres fácil.” / You sure ain’t an easy one.”
Her twin brother is a genius but “was birthed a soft whistle: quiet, barely stirring the air, a gentle sound.” Another reason for bleeding knuckles. Xiomara protects him.
She does have a solid best friend, and sometimes in life, that’s why we survive. Opposite in every way, they shouldn’t be friends, but Xiomara says, “Caridad knows me in ways I don’t have to explain. / Can see one of my tantrums coming a mile off . . .”
Then there’s her new tenth grade English teacher. Ms. Galiano recognizes her writing talent and tries to coax her to join the poetry club. She doesn’t tell her teacher that the poetry club conflicts with confirmation class. Her mother would never let her miss that. And Aman, the boy she likes, conflicts with everything else her mother demands.
The story moves along at a good pace with just enough tension and drama and light moments to let you see into Xiomara’s heart, along with glimpses into the struggles her brother faces. (Might there be a future book from his point of view?) Part three (of three) made me cry (tears of anguish and then of hope).
It’s not just the story that makes this book stand out. It’s the poetry. From the clever titles (a struggle for most poets) to the different forms to the imagery to the way it sounds out loud, there wasn’t a single poem I disliked. I’ve never read a poetry book where I liked every single poem.
My one small gripe is that Acevedo sometimes repeats information (her brother being older or her like for apples or ice skating when they were younger). Readers (especially poetry readers) pay attention. It’s almost an insult to tell us again to make sure we didn’t miss it the first time.
That’s a small quibble and one that maybe wouldn’t be noticed anyway. I highly recommend this book for teenagers, the adults in their lives, and poetry lovers in general.