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YA Worth Watching: The Poet X

Those that know me know me understand that I’m in an ongoing war with the universe. A giant lion turtle, really. Our war often manifests in subtle and surprising ways. For instance, remember last month when I celebrated the amazingness of the Truly Devious trilogy? The complete and finished trilogy. Remember last month when I decided to take full credit for the Percy Jackson early development announcement? The universe has attempted to course correct my ego because Maureen Johnson recently announced a fourth book in the Truly Devious series. It’s titled The Box in the Woods and will be released April 6, 2021.

Despite this minor setback, I’m back and still committed to helping the streaming giants find their next great YA book to TV adaptation. I almost went with vampires this month, not the kind that sparkle. Never those. But I decided a dose of poetry and realism was in order. And a protagonist who uses her voice to grow and change. The vampires will keep.

Presenting . . .The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo


WHO: Xiomara (See-oh-MAH-ruh) Batista is a fifteen-year-old Dominican-American girl with a body that draws the attention of boys and men and the ire of girls and women, so she speaks with her fists. She lives with her family in a small apartment, sharing a room with her twin brother, so privacy is in short supply. Trying to navigate her mother’s devotion to the church and God and her own desires for first kisses and spoken word poetry leaves Xiomara telling lies, sneaking around, and praying that she doesn’t get caught. She shouts poems onto the pages of her journal, speaking there the things she is afraid to say out loud.

WHAT: The Poet X (2018) was the debut novel of former teacher and spoken word poet, Elizabeth Acevedo. Xiomara’s story is told in verse and follows her journey from a being who is emotionally distant to one open to possibilities. She lives in a world that wants to objectify her body. Where walking down the streets of her own neighborhood feels like a war because of the stares, whistles, comments, and calls. She lives in a home where her father is there in body only. In that same home, her mother uses religion as a weapon to stifle Xiomara’s creativity and sexuality. Along the way she finds her people in a supportive teacher, a first love, a brother, and in an invitation to join her school’s slam poetry club. It’s the last one that provides the outlet Xiomara needs to start living.

WHEN: The here and now.

WHERE: Harlem. New York City, NY.

WHY: The language of this book is rich and evocative. Acevedo layers her poetry with images begging to be seen. There are moments in this novel that are so visceral you’ll stop to wonder if it’s happening to you. And the book touches upon so much. The divide between generations. The push of parental expectation against the pull of adolescent identity and agency. The highs and heartbreak of first love. The power of words. What it means to be a sister, daughter, and friend. What it means to be a first generation American and an Afro-Latina. What it means to belong to yourself. What it means to stop being complicit. To stop being silent. To take up space. And in this current climate, I would be remiss not to mention the way it tackles, albeit briefly, the sexualization of black and brown bodies—young, female bodies. Seen and treated as women when they are still little girls. We all know the root and no one is here for a history lesson; the history and the lessons are out there, and I encourage you to seek them out for yourself. Whatever you do, pick up a copy of Elizabeth Acevedo’s award-winning The Poet X. It will feed you.

NOTE: Acevedo is an outstanding spoken word poet in her own right, so check out some of her videos. She has written two more novels—With the Fire on High (2019) and Clap When You Land (2020).

Have you read it? Any thoughts on casting?


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