The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
- Strengths: One of the great strengths of The Poet X is its broad appeal to readers. By making the focus of the book Xiomara’s emotional response to problems, rather the problems themselves, readers are able to find easier ways to identify with Xiomara. Even if the reader isn’t facing the specific problems Xiomara must deal with, the concepts of feeling unheard, feeling as if you don’t know how to make everyone happy including yourself, and being afraid to open up to people who could help are things with which most teens could identify. Acevedo did an excellent job building the world of The Poet X. I loved that there was development equality across the various settings with each of the places of import to Xiomara receiving fair treatment. A final strength of The Poet X is that Acevedo gave the readers just enough of the secondary characters to make readers crave a sequel a la Becky Albertalli style.
- Weaknesses: I had a hard time coming up with weaknesses for The Poet X, but the closest thing I can think of as a downside is that the audiobook is way more incredible than the book, which is saying something because the book is pretty amazing to begin with.
- I would recommend this book to readers who feel oppressed and unheard. This book is also great for readers who like rhythm, such as those who like poetry or are big music fans. The verse writing format (the book is written as a series of slam poems) would make me inclined to recommend the book to reluctant readers as well, many of whom I’ve found are less intimidated by verse.This book is a good suggestions for readers that enjoy realistic fiction.
- Tagline: Unleash your words.
Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.
Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.
- Strengths: One strength of Summer Bird Blue is it’s appealing plot concept and location. Rumi has just lost her younger sister and songwriting partner in a car accident. With her mother struggling to deal with her grief, Rumi is sent to live with her aunt in Hawaii for the summer. The juxtaposition of a beautiful island paradise with someone who is trying to deal with their own trauma and grief give the book a very unique dynamic. Another strength of Summer Bird Blue is that the author does a really great job of showcasing Rumi’s anger and how explosive the anger of someone grieving can be. These scenes throughout the book offer a great opportunity for those who haven’t had to grieve a close loss to better understand why those who are hurting lash out. A final strength of this book is the Bowman’s ability to clearly present her message to readers – you are not alone the same way Rumi is not alone. Throughout the book she learns the hardships of the strangers turned friends around her and finds ways to identify with their pain.
- Weaknesses: Unfortunately, character relatability is a weakness for Summer Bird Blue. Rumi spends most of the book working through her grief in relation to the shared love of music she had with her younger sister. As a result, a lot of the emotional content of the book falls flat for readers who aren’t music fans. Another weakness of Summer Bird Blue is that the world Bowman has built is a little too convenient. People or actions kind of just happen right when it would be perfect to advance the story, which could annoy some readers of realistic fiction. The plot needed more transitions to lead us in those directions.
- I would recommend this book to readers who have a true love for music. I would also recommend this book to readers looking to understand a little bit more about what grief is like – with the acknowledgement that grief is different for every person. This book would also appeal to readers who enjoy realistic fiction in which a character starts over in a new town to avoid/cope with their problems.
- Tagline: Just because you live in paradise, doesn’t mean you feel like paradise.
The Winner: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
The victory for this round goes to The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Ultimately, The Poet X appeals to a wider audience due to its broad character relatability by dealing with concepts more commonly experienced by teens and other readers. The world created by Acevedo is believable to readers, which I feel is an essential tenet of realistic fiction. The secondary characters are well-developed and leave readers wanting to know more about what happens next for them. That combined with the intoxicating writing style, makes The Poet X more likely to hook readers and keep them reading.
Colleen Melone is the Adult & Teen Services Supervisor at the Crest Hill Branch of the White Oak Library District. When reading in her free time, she enjoys fantasies and thrillers.