A lantern glowing in the dark

A lantern glowing in the dark

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

‘The Poet X’ follows a teenage girl living in Harlem under the watchful eye of a conservative religious family. The girl, Xiomara, or X, finds solace from leering men and family pressure through poetry which in turn leads her to a slam poetry contest.

‘The Poet X’ is written in such a way that it could be X’s diary or poetry book. The whole narrative is told through the authentic and emotive voice of X and structured as a collection of poems.

The topics brought up throughout this book are extensive; religion, friendship, family, and the power of writing. These themes hold even greater meaning coming from an individual much like many from our society whose experiences are realistic everyday struggles. Obviously, not every reader is a young woman of colour, but the empathy being offered throughout these pages is something that I think more books should focus on.

Because the whole story is told through poetry, this book is not your average reading experience. Those that love poetry have a head start and I think will engage very easily with the story. For those who don’t have a passion for poetry, this novel is their opportunity to embrace poetry. The familiarity of a clear narrative nicely eases the reader into the form and rhythm.

Due to the themes explored in this novel, it isn’t always an easy read. There were times when I was angry at society, and other times when I was disappointed in the Church. However, the end of the novel is even more satisfying and meaningful because you have had to engage with these emotions as the characters experience them. But a warning, if you cry easily when reading you may want to stash a few tissues in your book bag.

As Christians, we should see this book as a good example of an author urging individuals, and institutions, to open their minds. The protagonist is part of an overbearing and misogynistic religious family which puts an immense strain on her relationship with God. This reminder to nurture, and not neglect, the youth in our churches is one all readers should take seriously.

There is a special power in a story about writing. The full circle moment from the narrator to the author and back to the reader, highlights just how life changing the process of writing can be. In this novel, we see a young girl who finds strength and solidarity through her poetry and we know that this has been written by an author who similarly has found purpose through writing. If you’re not a literature nerd like me, this may not be incredibly mind blowing but I think everyone has the potential to see the beauty and power of this occurrence.

Every child worries that they will never be the son or daughter their parents want. As children we subconsciously observe how our parents react to our achievements and plan how we can make those celebratory hugs and claps last longer next time. Our narrator, X, has this issue alongside us.

My parents probably wanted a girl who would sit in the pews wearing pretty florals and a soft smile. They got combat boots and a mouth silent until it’s sharp as an island machete.

And here we have one of my favourite takeaways from this book, to not change yourself for those who should love you for who you are because we are all more powerful when we play to our strengths and we don’t hide who we really are.

For those who don’t feel comfortable with confronting messages about their religion, this book is for you. I don’t say this because I want you to put yourself through a terrible reading experience. I say this because we can all be a bit more open to commentary on our religion, to improve ourselves and our church. I recommend this book to those that read YA novels and older, younger readers may not be comfortable with the intensity of the novel, so they can wait a few years to read this one.

And here I leave you with one of my favourite lines from the novel, enjoy.

And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark.

Susy Cornford

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