Booksandbevs7 will be trying something a little different over the course of the next few weeks. The blog will dedicate a series of posts to the incomparable works of Elizabeth Acevedo. The focus will be on her three novels: The Poet X, With The Fire On High, and Clap When You Land. I look forward to sharing my thoughts. Hopefully, you all will join in with comments and feedback. We can make a real discussion of it. It should be fun!
So, let’s begin…
Have you ever felt uncomfortably late to a party? Well, that’s how I feel when it comes to Ms. Acevedo. I’ve known of her for quite awhile. I’ve eyed her YA novels at bookstores, and seen her name and titles on the best-sellers list for a couple of years now. But with an ever increasing stack of books on my bed-side table, it seemed like I would never get around to reading her work. Luckily for me, I found the time. I can only hope my tardiness is pardonable.
The Poet X marked Acevedo’s marvelous (and award winning) debut as a novelist. She used free-verse to weave together a powerful coming-of-age story filled with beauty and pain. Xiomara Batista is a 15 year old girl living in Harlem. She presents a hard exterior. Her scarred fists are ready for a fight, if necessary. And Xiomara (pronounced see-oh-MAH-ruh) has to do a lot of fighting. Sometimes, it’s a battle just to get to school in the morning. She tries to keep her head down. She tries to stay out of trouble. But trouble always seems to find her.
Xiomara has to fend off the unwanted attention of predatory boys, and sometimes full-grown men. She has to protect her twin brother, who despite being an hour older, is physically smaller; an easy target for neighborhood bullies. But the most intense battle she faces is even closer to home. Xiomara is struggling to follow the strict directives of her devoutly religious mother. Making matters even more problematic, Xiomara is nursing some serious doubts. Catechism classes have her questioning the Bible; attempting to reconcile a millenia-old religion with the modern world around her. And the way Xiomara sees it, if there really…truly…is a God, why does He or She never seem to act on her behalf? Because she sure could use the help. Unfortunately, her skepticism riles the local priest, and inspires unremitting anger in her mother.
Xiomara may give off a tough girl vibe, but there’s so much more going on beneath the surface. If only she had an outlet; a safe space to release all of the pent up emotions. When her twin brother, Xavier, gives her a journal, Xiomara finally discovers that safe space. It becomes more precious to her than anything in the world. Writing and spoken word poetry provide her with a level of freedom she’s never known. But that freedom is built on tenuous ground. Acevedo’s poems (written in the voice of Xiomara) document a teen’s struggle with family, school, first love, obligations, and expectations. And it’s told in a way that is endlessly evocative. Heart-wrenching and heart-warming. A beautiful and unique slice of the American experience. If you haven’t read this book yet, it’s time you did.