62 pages 2 hours read

Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X

Fiction | Novel/Book in Verse | YA | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Elizabeth Acevedo’s award-winning 2018 young adult novel, The Poet X, brings to life the inner world of protagonist Xiomara Batista. Xiomara is 15 years old, and from her bedroom in Harlem, she writes poetry in order to put on the page all the feelings and ideas she cannot seem to be able to say out loud. Xiomara resigns herself to writing in her notebook and sharing her thoughts with only a few trusted individuals until her English teacher, Ms. Galiano, invites Xiomara to speak her words in a spoken word poetry club, and, later, at a citywide poetry slam competition.

Though this novel-in-verse takes place over only a few months during Xiomara’s sophomore year in high school, Xiomara goes through many significant experiences, all of which are documented in her poetry. Xiomara begins to doubt the religious teachings of her childhood as she matures into a curious and bright young woman. She struggles with her developing body and its effect on other people, experiencing at the same time what it feels like to fall in love. As Xiomara experiments with independence, she observes that her need to separate from her parents is particularly challenging for her mother. Mami lives and breathes by her Catholic faith, and she has high expectations for Xiomara, expectations that are vastly different from the ones that Xiomara has for herself.

Against the urban backdrop of present-day Harlem, Xiomara, her twin brother, Xavier, and their friend, Caridad, grow up among drug-dealers and teenagers having babies well before they are ready to be parents. Their church is both a sanctuary and a jail for Xiomara, and she questions the teachings of the church with her characteristic incisive thoughtfulness. At school and on the street, Xiomara is both a quiet presence and a highly conspicuous one; her womanly figure means she is noticed, but Xiomara wants to be known for her creative abilities—for her dreams and her intellect, not for her curves. Xiomara’s relationship with her older parents is difficult, as they don’t seem to understand her, nor do they trust her judgment. Her mother’s devotion to the Catholic church means that Xiomara has to live up to Mami’s religious ideals, and just as Mami is setting impossible limits on Xiomara’s social freedoms, Xiomara falls deeply in love. She feels she must keep her romance with her biology lab partner, Aman, a secret, until everything becomes evident during the novel’s intensely dramatic and emotional moment of climax.

Written in a musical and compelling combination of slang, colloquialisms, and formal poetic language, The Poet X is an unusual and sensitive book that honors the rhythms of hip-hop while taking the reader along on the rollercoaster ride that is adolescence. Through Xiomara’s eyes, being a teenager has never been more challenging, but thanks to her insistence that she be true to herself, readers of all ages will learn that there is potential for beauty in every conflict. Love can take any number of forms, Xiomara learns, and the readers of her deeply-personal poetry are reminded of this inevitable fact of life with every stanza.