The Book Corner: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel, The Poet X is a tale of pursuing dreams, teenage freedom, and love.


Illustration by Michelle Rodriguez Gonzalez.

Darlene Antoine, Features Editor

The Poet X is Elizabeth Acevedo’s extraordinary debut novel that is the culmination of exploring the realm of teenage freedom, love, and religion through the written and spoken word. 

It is a novel in verse, told in three parts about Xiomara Batista, a 15-year-old girl hailing from Harlem. The poignant and beautiful coming of age novel focuses on how Xiomara feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. 

With the pressures of adhering to her mothers religious values, and being constantly harassed by both grown men, boys, and bullied by girls as Xiomora’s body grows into her curves—she has learned to let her fists do the talking. The only place Xiomara is truly able to express herself and her voice is through her poetry in a leather bound journal. 

The first-hand account of Xiomara’s experiences growing up in Harlem as a Dominican American teenager is written in a series of short poems, creating the fifteen-year-old slam poet’s diary. The Poet X is a brilliant testimony to Elizabeth Acevedo’s skilful story-telling as well as her talent for poetry.

The Poet X grapples with a refreshing amount of realism in the upbringing of not only religious values of the Caltholic Church, but also the weight of parental expectation on a child struggling to maintain a sense of individuality. 

The novel explores Xiomara’s characterization by focusing on her internal battle to be her most authentic self that has budding desires to be romantic with boys and being honest how she feels versus who her mother, Mami, expects her to be. 

The situations Xiomara finds herself in provides both readers and writers with a hopeful message about what it means to truly be vulnerable in self-expression through art and life.

The novel has many key characters that play a role in Xiomara’s journey of self discovery. Twin, her genius twin brother,  is representative of the challenges that come with homosexuality and religion. 

Her love interest, Aman, who she met in Biology class, pushes Xiomara to explore her budding romantic teenage feelings while also going against her mothers religious wishes. Boundaries are pushed with Aman and within church. 

Her various relationships are put under different pressures, leading to emotional highs and lows. But Xiomara pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers. 

With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the Catholic Church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. 

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, Xiomara doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her Mami finding out. But Xiomara can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

While the world around Xiomara may do everything to not hear her,  Xiomara refuses to be silent. 

For me, growing up I learned to find myself in writing. I devoted countless years to transcribing handwritten stories about fairy tales and tragic romances on the pages of composition books. As a child stuck in an overt religious home with rules and regulations, the pages of my notebooks were the only aspect of freedom that I ever really had. 

The Poet X is representative of my childhood desires to live and express myself freely with risks and curiosity about the world around me. Elizabeth Acevedo’s gut-wrenching and tear-jerking story is thought provoking and compelling in its own right.

While the story is reminiscent of The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, a series of vignettes, is the story of Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year-old Chicana girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, Acevedo’s work is a powerful read. Her unique voice, coupled with her own identity and as a Dominican American teenager, makes The Poet X immensely engaging and captivating.

With BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland and over twelve years of slam poetry performance experience Acevedo’s years of work in slam poetry are clear in this novel as every line is lyrical and vivid. She holds the title of a National Poetry Slam Champion and a New York Times bestselling author.

The Poet X has won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Carnegie medal, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and the Walter Award. 

Xiomara’s characterization was what stuck with me the most as the transition from who she is and who she wanted to be was reminiscent of a butterfly undergoing metamorphosis. I believe that through reading The Poet X not only will readers and writers learn the value of freedom through expression but also the strength of pursuing one’s dreams.

Darlene Antoine is the Features Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email her at [email protected]