Acevedo, Elizabeth. The Poet X. Harper Teen, 2018. 361p. ISBN 9780062662804. $17.99 MS, HS, OT *****
Xiomara Batista is the daughter of a strict Catholic mother, the twin sister of well-behaved brother Xavier, and a young Dominican woman trying to find her voice in Harlem. There is what her family expects from her, the things men on the street say about her new curves, what her teachers want for her, and the desires she keeps in her heart and in a secret leather-bound journal where her thoughts, hopes, and fears pour out as poetry. She is a fighter, determined and eloquent, but the more she grows up, the harder it is to fit all these sides of herself together. Then a new boy, Aman, catches her attention and it looks like everything is going to burst.
This novel in verse is the debut from slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo. Xiomara is a smart, strong protagonist navigating a world filled with the kinds of difficulties teen readers will recognize: family culture, harassment, expression, and how to become fully yourself in the face of competing expectations. Xiomara is the center of the story, but characters from multiple generations and perspectives add fullness and dimension to her story. Not all teens fight with their parents about whether poetry is an appropriate interest, but the tension between what they want for themselves and what others want for them will resonate. Some cursing (but no f-words) and discussions about sex might put this title outside the comfort zone of less mature readers. But the positive messages about standing up for yourself and finding constructive ways to deal with difficult experiences make this a valuable addition to all middle school and high school shelves. For those with the resources, the audiobook narrated by the author is highly recommended for its fluidity and the way it brings Xiomara’s poetry to life.
Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library