Xiomara is voluptuous, but sadly not unashamedly so. At the age of fifteen, she has never been kissed, and now that her baby fat has ‘…settled in D cups,’ there are plenty of male admirers hoping to change that, a fact that horrifies her pious mother. Trapped in the chrysalis of adolescence, Xiomara feels that her body takes up more room than her voice, and in this searing Carnegie Prize winning novel, attempts to discover her own words and story. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is an extraordinary read.
The first thing to say about this powerhouse of a novel, is that it is written in verse form, a trend which says so much about the outstanding sophistication of contemporary YA writing.
It is written in verse because Xiomara is a poet. A poet whose words exist purely in her head and journal, Xiomara’s poetry tells us of her conflicted life and in particular the religious fervour of her Dominican mother, Mami. Fearful of her daughter being branded a cuero (whore), Mami urges Xiomara to pray not to be led into sin and forces her to go to Bible class.
‘…the only man Mami wanted was nailed to a cross.’
At a critical juncture of adolescence, Xiomara is questioning the choices her parents have made. Spinning her thoughts into verse, it takes a perceptive teacher and a slam poetry club to inspire her to share it with the world. In electrifying verse, every aspect of Xiomara’s life is laid bare, as she heads towards a devastating confrontation with Mami, the person who has hitherto been ‘…the biggest sun in my life.’
Traditionally taboo subjects are addressed; menstruation, masturbation, coercive control, and in particular the running theme of sexual harassment. You know, our kids generation aren’t going to keep quiet about this stuff, and it’s that, as well as the stunning quality of writing here, that has put a smile on my face.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is published by Electric Monkey, 368 pages.