Genres: Young Adult, Poetry
Main themes: Coming of Age, Cultural, Family, Love, Personal Growth
Rating: 5 stars
Xiomara has always held her tongue, stopped whatever thought or emotion inside of her from being known to those around her. Instead, Xiomara would express herself by writing and it’s through her poems that she finds a way to pour her heart out. These meaningful poems are Xiomara’s story; a challenging but inspiring journey of self-discovery that will touch your heart.
The opening poem was a perfect introduction to Xiomara’s life. A vivid picture is painted of her home in Harlem which is bursting of life and culture. Xiomara speaks of old church ladies in their chancletas speaking island Spanish and honking cabs blasting bachata music. It’s a snapshot of her Dominican roots, and it’s this aspect of her identity that plays a really important role throughout the book. This is something I appreciate about The Poet X; it explores deep topics like attitudes towards women or one’s relationship with religion but from the angle of a specific community (in this case, Dominicans) and this is so important! The lived experiences of issues such as these are usually very different for ethnic minorities and most of the time, these views are underrepresented. And so I can’t tell you how refreshing and meaningful it was to see this book open up about real, and deep issues that many from an ethnic minority background can relate to.
The opening poem also hints at Xiomara being someone who doesn’t have the freedom to be herself and so it was very absorbing, to read how she becomes more confident in her writing, and ability to perform spoken word. Watching this growth was liberating… I just can’t describe how proud of Xiomara you’ll be when you read this book. You truly feel everything; her joy, her wonder, her heartbreak, her pain- everything. It’s a powerful journey that had me completely engrossed.
I also really enjoyed reading about Xiomara’s relationship with her twin brother, Xavier (known as Twin). I feel like it was such an accurate depiction of the bond you have with a close sibling. It’s nothing magnificently perfect that causes you to question how realistic their relationship actually is, it’s just authentic. There are a group of successive poems which talk about why Xavier is a terrible twin, but why he is also the only boy Xiomara will ever love and I really appreciated reading them because of how genuine and understandable they were.
I also really liked how the book was set out; it was a collection of poems written in free verse- lyrical and beautiful and easily followed. I would definitely recommend this to those who enjoy poetry but also, for those who don’t usually go for this genre. Poetry is something I’d like to read more of but I find that it’s difficult knowing where to start, and knowing how to find poems that are easy to understand or connect with. But this book was a perfect match! The colourful cover is what drew me to it and I’m so glad because it was a brilliant read. To conclude: the poetic prose, celebration of the Afro-Latina, and the personal growth of the main character made it a memorable and touching novel.
I’d like to end with one of my favourite moments from the book- when Xiomara watched a performance of spoken word for the first time.
When class starts Ms. Galiano projects a video:
a woman on stage, her voice quiet,
then louder and faster like an express train picking up speed.
The poet talks about being black, about being a woman,
about how beauty standards make it seem she isn’t pretty.
I don’t breathe for the entire three minutes
while I watch her hands, and face,
feeling like she’s talking directly to me.
She’s saying the thoughts I didn’t know anyone else had.
We’re different, this poet and I. In looks, in body,
in background. But I don’ feel so different
when I listen to her. I feel heard.
When the video finishes, my classmates,
who are rarely excited by anything, clap softly.
And although the poet isn’t in the room
it feels right to acknowledge her this way,
even if it’s only polite applause;
my own hands move against each other.
Ms. Galiano asks about the themes and presentation style
but instead of raising my hand I press it against my heart
and will the chills on my arms to smooth out.
It was just a poem, Xiomara, I think.
But it felt more like a gift.