Heavy Medal Finalist: THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Xiomara Batista is the protagonist of THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo, a novel that is constructed as her journal and the repository of all of her poetry. This novel in verse gives us a glimpse into Xiomara’s life at home with her super smart twin brother, her very religious mother, and her distant father.
First, this novel really excels in its characterizations. Xiomara really shines through her poetry. We see her as both a young woman who has created this hard exterior to shield herself from the world as well as a young person who is trying to become her real self and is terrified to be judged by the world around her. I think we see this really clearly in her poem “Okay?” on page 54:
Twin asks me if I’m okay.
And my arms don’t know
Which one they want to become:
A beckoning hug or falling anvils.
She wants to be soft and warm but doesn’t feel like she can let her guard down to let even her own twin in.
The juxtaposition of her inner thoughts, as conveyed through her poetry, with what she presents to the world really give the reader a complete picture of Xiomara. More than once she presents a rough draft for an assignment next to the final draft. In her rough draft she says what she really thinks while in her final draft she presents what the world expects her to think. I especially love her rough draft on page 126 “Last Paragraphs of My Biography”:
but most importantly,
she should be remembered
as always working to become
the warrior she wanted to be.
I think this novel also really excels at its delineation of theme, especially the theme of shame. Xiomara’s mother has always told her that her body is shameful and the attention that it garners from the men and boys in her neighborhood is her fault. Her mother even makes her feel ashamed for trying to use tampons when she first menstruates. This shame of her body permeates the story and it is as she begins to see herself through the eyes of Aman and then her poetry group does she begin to realize that maybe there is more to her than just her body.
Xiomara uses her poetry to find a voice for herself that is both strong and emotionally vulnerable. She opens herself up to the judgement of the world around her and is rewarded for it.
Introduction by Courtney
Readers are invited to join the discussion of THE POET X in the comments below. The discussion will be limited to positive comments only at the beginning; broader discussion, which can include negative viewpoints, can be added any time after 12:00 noon (EST).
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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