Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).
what’s the point of God giving me life
If I can’t live it as my own?
Why does listening to his commandments
mean I need to shut down my own voice?
(The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. P57.)
Xiomara knows what is expected of her. Get confirmed, hide the body that attracts male attention and become a nun. These are her Mum’s wishes. The only problem is Xiomara doesn’t believe in God.
It’s not a thought she can voice. Instead, Xiomara turns to the notebook her brother bought her for her birthday and fills it with poetry. She records her deepest thoughts about religion, and her mother, and the cute boy who she is paired with for lab work in school.
Secrets can only be kept for so long. Will Xiomara renounce everything she believes, or will she free her voice from the pages of her notebook?
A strong coming of age novel written in prose poetry.
This is a story about religion, feminism, and freedom of speech. It is also about the defining moments in our youth which shape our views on big issues. It is a story about love, and friendship and finding our own voice.
Xiomara is a memorable character because she refuses to conform to the values she sees around her. She may have been raised by regular church-goers and brought up to think that girls should be ashamed of their bodies, but internally she challenges everything she hears. She’s also a rebel. The girl who comes back with grazed knuckles. I loved her because she shows that girls can gain reputations for fighting and speaking out. There is a greater pressure on girls to stay in line than there is on boys, and while I have never seen a book that suggests fighting is the answer, it is important to show growing people that it is something we might go through and overcome.
There is a huge amount of discussion about how religion views and treats women. While I respect that people have positive experiences too, I also believe it is important to acknowledge how religious attitudes which were prevalent in the past have filtered into society. Have you ever heard people who allege to support gender equality commenting on the length of a woman’s skirt or how much flesh she is ‘showing’? These attitudes may not be scripture for everyone, but they remain commonplace. Xiomara quietly challenges these views, and her questioning allows the reader to open themselves to other views.
I can’t review this book without talking about the rise and rise of prose poetry. Three books on the Carnegie shortlist of eight are coming of age prose poetry novels. The form is accessible, but it also offers a huge depth. There is something more to each section every time you reread. Maybe it appeals to a generation who are used to online performance. It puts the protagonist’s voice and their internal experiences right at the front.
I raced through this because I was so caught up in Xiomara’s experiences that I couldn’t leave the story unresolved. A brilliant story which puts its character at the front and through her speaks for a generation.
Thanks to Riot Comms and Egmont UK LTD for my gifted copy of The Poet X. Opinions my own.