Have you ever read a fictional story and totally forgotten about its fictional nature halfway through? The story sounds so familiar to you and you can relate to it given that you have experienced a lot of the story either first hand or vicariously through a close friend’s story. That was my experience while listening to the audiobook Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. This story is wonderfully vivid and heartfelt. It is written in verse and eloquently performed by the author herself.
I first heard about it while watching a video from Sam of Thoughts on Tomes. Honestly, she didn’t have to talk too much about it as the breathtaking cover entranced me, but of course she did talk about it and further convinced me that I needed to experience this book for myself. Thankfully it was available on Audible. I listened to the sample which further convinced me to get a copy now, specifically the audiobook version. I immediately used my credit for the month and listened to it – over and over and over again. It’s made me cry. It’s made me laugh. It’s made me fall in love, time and again. If you are on the fence, I hope that the following points persuade you to read it yourself.
Initially I had reservations about how I would feel about a YA contemporary story written in verse. I thought it might be too dramatic or distracting. I was mistaken. In fact, I found it poignant, beautiful and impactful. It subtly reminded me of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Each chapter adds to the story, but it does not follow a traditional chapter format. Like in Cisneros’s book there is a chapter that explains vividly the meaning of the protagonist’s name and it perfectly sets the stage for the rest of the book. Unlike Cisneros’s book, it takes place within a few pivotal months of Xiomara Batista’s life.
Something you should know about Elizabeth Acevedo is that the woman can slam. She slams like no other…that I’ve ever heard. Her words are moving but her voice is powerful. She accentuates emotions with great force and invigorates dramatic scenes to a level I know I would never be able to achieve had I read it on my own. Just listen to the Audible clip and you’ll understand what I mean. Honestly, I hope she narrates a few more books in the future, even if they are not her own. (What can I say? I am hooked.)
A kind reminder of the important role our teachers play in our lives.
“Remember, teaching is not community service…”
This is a line from one of the chapters…and it totally got me—meaning, I cried my eyes out. I think that most people become teachers because they want to make a difference, but once they get in the field they realize that the challenge is much greater than they ever expected, and as a result their passion dwindles. It happens to some but not all, and it is because of their passion and fight that many of us are touched everyday. This line reminded of a few of the wonderful teachers I’ve had in my life, and it filled me with regret as I really wish I had made more of an effort to stay in touch with them. Even today, I have a hard time staying in touch with those that are no longer a part of my daily life. Staying in touch takes effort and it involves an investment of precious time. While I understand that everyone has priorities and mine are not universal nor do they take precedence over anyone else’s, I will work on this making a bit more of an effort. If only to feed the flame that guides their fighting spirit.
love – Love - LOVE
Several love stories take place within this book. They are not all heterosexual in nature. They do not all end joyously. They are not all romantic or platonic. Like the world that we live in, they are quite diverse. They exist between a young shy boy and a courageous young woman; between two young boys; between brother and sister and child and parent. These story lines were wonderful. They filled and broke my heart—especially that of child and parent. Reading about Xiomara’s thirst for answers; for clarity about what it means to be a good woman because she has no control over how others—especially men—see her or rather, lust over her. It is devastating to hear what she is called or accused of by some of her most precious relationships. I had such a hard time hearing these scenes, because I think most of my friends and I have had similar conversations.
Religion—challenging it & deciding for ourselves
This is a big topic in the book. Xiomara questions many aspects of what she is being taught both at church and at home. Her mom is a devout Catholic who in her youth aspired to follow the path of a nun. As a result, she pressures her family to follow the Catholic faith diligently.
Like Xiomara, I started questioning Catholicism in my late teens. Unlike her, I was not obligated by my parents to follow the path. I started off willingly and excitedly. I became an active member of our church and slowly started seeing things differently; and slowly, I started to shy away from all of it. My experience was challenging and heartbreaking, but thankfully it did not come close to resembling Xiomara’s experience. Her experience was extremely stressful. Having to battle with inner doubt AND with a strict mother who seemed to put her down quite frequently was a challenge to get through. Her mom was not the only issue, her father while physically present was mentally absent and that really took a toll on everyone.
Body Image – dealing with it while everything and everyone around you seems to change at a hundred miles an hour
Do you remember when you first started feeling “womanly” or different? When you noticed that everything, from the way your body felt and looked to the way your interactions with your close friends and family changed? Even your relationships with best friends were changing—as if everything else wasn’t enough of a challenge. Elizabeth Acevedo articulates this painful experience touchingly. I found it heartbreaking to relive it through Xiomara’s experience. She is a young woman in a mature woman’s body who cannot help but turn heads wherever she goes, and that as unsettling as that attention is, the truth it never really goes away. Eventually you develop coping mechanisms when confronted with those uncomfortable feelings, but they take time to hone. Although, sometimes the attention is nice to receive, and that is when things become confusing and you start to question your character and values. Seriously, what is the difference between good and bad attention? Is it that there is mutual attraction? Then the question becomes—am I being easy? The answer, of course, is no. As a humans we deserve to be loved and treasured and made to feel beautiful every single day, and part of it is getting attention from those you wish to embrace physically and emotionally. Guilt should never be a factor in your love story unless you are doing something that goes against your values. Ultimately, Xiomara comes into her own and that was utterly enchanting.
In her book, Unqualified by Anna Faris, Anna talked about how angry she became during those emotional wretched years. She would challenge the status quo and dress as provocative as she could if only to prove a point—that all men were scum. I can relate, in some ways. I think my experience was a mix between bald Britney and provocative Anna. I felt alone in my journey, which lead me to make irrational conclusions about myself and others. I like to think that if the internet had been more of a presence in my life then, I would have felt less alone; however, I highly doubt it. Knowing me, I would have probably gravitated towards social media posts that relate to fashion and beauty that do not truly represent real women, and that would have been a bit worse, I imagine.
I am getting off topic. Point is, this book is fantastic, relatable and the audiobook is a must read. Honestly, I think this is going to be my favorite book of 2018, but there are still a few months ahead of us so I probably should not make the proclamation yet.
Please let me know if you have read this story or if you are planning on doing so. If you have already done so, what did you think? Did you read or listen or both? How did you like your reading experience?