The Poet X

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
The Poet X Book Poster Image
Powerful, haunting story of finding your voice and power.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This novel in verse shows the power of spoken word poetry and provides insight into and understanding of the effects of street harassment and family strife. 

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the importance of being yourself, finding your own voice while standing against efforts to silence it,  becoming comfortable with your own sexuality.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While Xiomara is neglected by adults in her household, there are two adults outside her home who offer her respite, help: her teacher and her priest. Xiomara is strong, willing to physically take on those who try to debase her. Ultimately, Xiomara uses resources available to her -- her teacher and priest -- to help remedy a radically out-of-control and abusive situation.

Violence

Xiomara often discusses how she uses her fists to deal with boys who ogle and grope her. She also fights boys who threaten her brother. To punish her child, a mother makes her kneel on uncooked rice and strikes and smacks her, causing injury.

Sex

Much discussion, curiosity about sex as main character comes to terms with changes in her body and how those changes bring unwanted attention from males and females. Because she has developed faster than other girls, she realizes she is punished by both sides for being "wanton" or a danger -- for something she has no control over. Discussion of wanting to kiss boys, a religious perspective on sex outside of marriage, some actual kissing and hand-holding. One scene of heavy petting without clothes on. A girl is groped against her will and experiences street harassment. One character is revealed as gay, adults are described as having affairs, and a girl describes a masturbation experience.

Language

Some swear words, including "ho," "bullsh--t," "s--t," "damn." A girl is verbally attacked for having D-cup breasts.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Talk of drug dealers on street corners and an adult man who's an alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Elizabeth Acevedo's New York Times best-seller The Poet X is a coming-of-age story that deals with a teen girl, Xiomara, growing up as a thoroughly American young woman with a developed body in a deeply religious immigrant home. There are instances of street harassment, parental abuse, religious discussions, sexual exploration (some kissing, and one scene of heavy petting), and the revelation of a character being gay. Xiomara hits boys who ogle and grope her and also fights boys who threaten her brother. As punishment, her mother makes her kneel on uncooked rice and hits Xiomara, causing injury. Parents should be prepared to talk about agency, finding your voice, and religious texts and meaning.

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What's the story?

Xiomara is THE POET X, and her life is a constant fight. She fights for her brother, who won't fight for himself. She fights with her mother, who sees her as nothing more than sin; she fights the world for telling her she is nothing more than her hips, boobs, and thighs. She fights a religion that doesn't seem quite fair; she fights to be visible, to be free, to have a voice. Then she fights to keep it. Xiomara is ready to open her fists and raise her voice. The school's poetry slam club is a way to take back her power, but is the world -- is her family -- ready for Xiomara?

Is it any good?

This novel in verse is stunning, beautiful, and uncomfortably accurate at times. In The Poet X, author Elizabeth Acevedo takes readers through Xiomara's life as she finds herself being punished for simply existing and having the audacity to want to exist outside of the narrow boxes where society, religion, and her mother have decided she belongs. Readers can feel the shame, fear, and confusion Xiomara grapples with so much that they may have to resist the temptation to withdraw into themselves like Xiomara.

Acevedo perfectly captures what it's like to have a changing body that suddenly becomes an indictment against who you are, even though you have no control over how it has blossomed into womanhood. The sexualization and policing of girls' bodies, and the silencing of their voices by those who install themselves as their protectors, is particularly striking in this moment of the #MeToo movement and the nationwide battles over school dress codes that unfairly target girls and women. The book is timely, sensitive, powerful, and hopeful. Families of both boys and girls can have great discussions about puberty, gender politics, religion, and finding your voice.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Poet X confronts street harassment and policing of girls' bodies. Have you ever been harassed on the street or seen someone being harassed? How did it make you feel? Are there unfair or highly detailed dress codes for girls at your school? Is that fair? If not, what can you do about it?

  • Are there certain jobs or chores that are divided by gender? How does that make you feel? What can you do to address gender stereotypes at school, at home, and in your community?

  • Growing up can be tough. Do you have an outlet for your feelings? What do you do to express yourself? 

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