The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Recommended by Erin Harrington (@eeharrington4)

Form and genre: Verse novel, realistic fiction

Length: 384 pages (poetry density, not prose!)

Summary: Xiomara, a high schooler in New York City, uses poetry as an outlet for her feelings about her family, her religion, and herself. Poetry is a vehicle for her to explore a variety of changes in her life–physical, spiritual, and in her relationships.

Age recommendation and challenging content:

Ages 13+ (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/the-poet-x)

Sexuality–of various types–is depicted in the book, but in a way that is overall developmentally healthy for teen relationships. Exceptions are homophobia and Xiomara’s experience of street harassment, both of which are clearly treated as unacceptable in the book.

Some swearing.

Marijuana use definitely mentioned–the main character may share a joint in one scene? Drug use is not a major feature of the story.

Perspectives may vary on some decisions made by the mother in the book, including whether it constitutes physical/emotional abuse (forcing main character to kneel on rice; destroying her poems). Being sensitive to various cultural norms about parenting is really important for teachers of this book.

Notable reasons for recommending this book:

I have read so few novels for middle schoolers that address a tween/teen’s experience with religion and belief in a substantive way. This book takes the protagonists’s struggles with her faith seriously. It does an excellent job giving voice to a teen’s concerns and criticisms, while also leaving plenty of space for faith to remain an important part of her personal and cultural identity.

Positive depiction of teen sexuality. The romance is between two characters who get to know each other very well and enjoy each other’s company and interests. They respect each other’s physical boundaries.

Family is Dominican–connections to Caribbean cultures represented in immigrant communities in your classroom/UK more broadly?

Other useful information: Winner of the US National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Winner of Carnegie Medal

#ownvoices (Elizabeth Acevedo is a Dominican-American poet)