The Poet X is an award-winning YA novel in verse by Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s told by Xiomara, a young girl from a strict Catholic family making her way through all the feelings and fears that go along with growing up.
“…she better not hear about me hanging out like a wet shirt on a clothesline just waiting to be worn.”
These emotions are tangled and shamed by a family who doesn’t leave space for listening; affected by the mistakes they made when they were young.
“It’s not any one thing / that makes me wonder / about the capital G.O.D. // About a holy trinity / that don’t include the mother.”
There are no safe caesuras in her world. She is surrounded, doesn’t even have her own room, but feels alone and isolated. The emotions, and all the things she needs to say, come out of her in poems because she has nowhere else safe to share them.
“If Medusa was Dominican / and had a daughter, I think I’d be her. / I look and feel like a myth / a story distorted, waiting for other to stop / and stare.”
Poetry is hers. It’s the most private and important thing she owns. It is her saving and her escape, and it is where she grows.
When you are a teenager in an impossible situation, sometimes the answer is in a book. Sometimes, reading those truths spoken by someone who looks and feels like you do can make you realize you aren’t really alone, and you should hang on until you find your people. That’s really the message I took home from this work.
“When I’m told to have faith / in the father the son / in men and men are the first ones / to make me feel so small.”
I will say, I wanted the adults in Xiomara’s life to apologize to her. This was the only thing I disliked in the book. This teaches keeping toxic people in our lives, and while yes, they went to counseling, nowhere do they own what they put her through. That’s unacceptable to me. There were other adults here who needed to call out their own. I remain terrified for Xiomara’s brother.
“He is not elegant enough for a sonnet, / too well-thought-out for a free write, / taking too much space in my thoughts / to ever be a haiku.”
There are a lot more verses I highlighted. The language in this feels right smack where it needs to be – centered, no pretention, a lilt and a drum. I loved it. Are they making this into a movie, because they should.
“My name is hard to say, / and my hands are hard, too. / I raise them here / to build the church of myself. / This X was always an omen.”
Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne is also a novel in verse about a young girl, but with a family who doesn’t have the time or emotional space to spare. Sometimes your best isn’t enough. Sky feels alone and like Xiomara must always be on guard. Her passion is basketball, and like poetry, this makes her vulnerable. But, also like poetry, the paradox is that it also empowers her to find herself.
This book hurt me in a different way than The Poet X. While I had some things in common with Xiomara (all of us have the first love heartbreak stories and some of have toxic parents), what really connected me was dealing with the mean girls, not just the careless boys.
“It’s hard being friends with people / when you are still / figuring out who you are”
The insecurities about our bodies, our abilities, where we belong, and how to be loved is all laid bare through Sky’s internal, lyric monologue.
“So I let my shoulders sink low / like my heart be / & I watch Lay Li / how she walks & / everybody stops / & I’m trying to learn / how to walk in a room & / turn their heads / how to move in a crowd & / be the light…”
Oh, my heart. This book is compassionate.
“Your endurance is not your only ability.”
It goes hard and strong all the way to the end where the reader is left with an empowering message of hope and found family.
“If you show up & show / the world your real self / You don’t have to wait for / others to claim you”
I cried so much, you all. This book was healing, and I’m fifty years old. I’m so glad I lived to read this one.
Thanks for reading!