THE POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo

A shout out to Kathryn McAllister at Stonemans Bookroom in Castlemaine, where I work. She reads a lot more YA fiction than I do, and she pushed this one into my hands. I thought I would hate this book and I loved it. Xiomara (I’m thinking the “X” might sound like a “Z”?) is a fifteen year old Dominican girl (I had to look this up – Dominican Republic is in the Caribbean) living with her twin brother and parents in Harlem in NYC. Her mum is very, very religious (Catholic) and obsessed with keeping Xiomara away from bad influences, and that means, mainly, boys. She’d love to have a daughter like Xiomara’s friend Caridad. Caridad respects her parents, she can recite the Bible, she wants to wait to have sex till she’s married… But Xiomara is different. Secretly, she’s a poet and she wants to take part in a slam poetry competition. She also wants to get to know a boy in her class. This novel is her story – how X’s voice is finally heard – written as her poetry. I was pretty sceptical, but it’s brilliant. It says everything it needs to say, and it’s short! Here’s a short sequence…

I am un-hideable
Taller even than my father, with what Mami always said
was “ a little too much body for such a young girl”.
I am the baby fat that settled into D–cups and swinging hips
So that the boys who called me a whale in middle school
Now ask me to send them pictures of myself in a thong.
The other girls call me conceited. Ho…Fast.
When your body takes up more room than your voice
you are always the target of well aimed rumours,
which is why I let my knuckles talk for me…

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