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Book Review

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Xiomara (see-oh-MAH-ruh) Batista, who often goes by “X,” is a high school girl of Dominican heritage living in Harlem. She keeps a journal in poetry form, since she believes no one else cares about her words and thoughts. Mami, a devout Catholic, speaks more Spanish than English. Papi is silent, docile and detached from the family.

X knows her mother wanted to be a nun, and she has heard her father was a ladies’ man before X and her twin brother, Xavier, were born. Since Mami and Papi didn’t think they could have children, people often say the twins are the miracle that saved their marriage. Being a miracle is just one of the ways X feels burdened.

X is tall and large-breasted, which makes her a frequent target for ogling, groping and sexual comments from males of all ages. She’s torn between disgust and excitement as she starts to experience new thoughts and feelings about sexuality. She longs for Xavier, whom she calls "Twin," to defend her against these assaults. But it has never worked that way. X has always had to fight for her smart, scrawny brother.

Mami forces X to attend confirmation classes with Father Sean on Tuesday nights. Although X would never tell her mother, she has numerous questions and doubts about faith. She says Jesus is a friend she no longer wants around. Her best friend, Caridad, takes the classes with her. Caridad embraces her faith wholeheartedly. She teases X about her rebellion but believes X will figure things out. X desperately wants to spend Tuesday nights at the school’s new poetry club. She eventually discovers she can sneak out of confirmation classes and attend the meetings.

X also has to sneak around when she begins dating a classmate named Aman, since Mami forbids her to date. X and Aman’s relationship progresses, until one day Mami sees them making out on the train. Mami throws a fit and calls X names. She makes X go to confession and further punishes her at home by making her kneel on dry grains of rice.

At school, a boy gropes X. Aman is standing nearby but does nothing to defend her. She curses at Aman and tells him never to speak to her again. X believes her mother and God think she should be remorseful, but she doesn’t believe what she did with Aman was wrong. She loses herself in her poetry club and participates in open mic nights. These activities make her feel alive when everything else makes her sad. X learns Twin is gay and is dating a boy named Cody. She tries to be supportive, knowing Mami would never understand.

X comes home one day to see Mami holding the poetry journal filled with X’s secret thoughts. Enraged by what she’s read, Mami shoves X around and sets the book on fire. She quotes Scripture while it burns and keeps X from extinguishing the blaze. X fights back by yelling all she can remember of her poetry.

X texts Aman and goes to see him. He comforts her, and they begin to undress. They kiss and grope while naked, but she stops him short of intercourse. She stays at Aman’s that night before deciding to face her mother again. She brings Father Sean home with her so they can talk things out the right way.

Mami breaks down in tears, and they slowly begin to heal their rift. Mami and X, sometimes accompanied by Papi and Twin, start going to weekly counseling sessions with Father Sean. Even X’s sullen father seems to come alive. Father Sean, Aman, Twin, Caridad and X’s parents all come to support her at an open mic poetry event. X feels discovering the power of her own words has given her more freedom than she’s ever known.

Christian Beliefs

The sections of the book have headings like “In the beginning was the word” and “The Word was made flesh.” X says most of her family members other than her have biblical names. She says a number of things make her question God, like the fact that the Trinity doesn’t include a mother.

X says church looks at girls like her differently and people judge her by what’s under her skirt. She often fights on her brother’s behalf, and she thinks turning the other cheek is the sort of thing that could get her brother killed. She doesn’t feel like she should have to be so indebted to a God who isn’t doing much for her.

Mami frequently emphasizes ideas like indebtedness to God and the need to earn one’s salvation. X notes her mother still has scars all over her knuckles from being taught faith in Catholic school. X thinks her mother neglects Papi in her all-consuming devotion for Jesus. X says she feels like Jesus is a friend she’s had throughout childhood who invites himself over too often and texts too much. She says she knows it’s blasphemous, but she doesn’t think she needs Him anymore.

X finds it interesting when Father Sean says confirmation class is about accepting the gift of the Spirit of one’s own volition. X doesn’t think much of anything she’s done in life has been of her own volition. During one session, she asks Father Sean a barrage of questions about the creation of the earth and evolution and how much of the Bible is real versus metaphorical. Father Sean takes her aside and tries to calm her down. He tells her curiosity is normal and welcome in Catholicism and that honest dialogue is good. She still feels he has failed to answer any of her questions.

While taking Communion, she wonders why God even gave her life if she can’t live it the way she wants. She asks why listening to His commandments mean she has to shut down her own voice. She begins taking the wafers out of her mouth and hiding them under the pews at church each time she takes Communion. She says she feels the eyes of the Jesus statue on her as she leaves His holy body for the mice to eat.

Mami sometime tells X she needs to pray extra hard so her well-developed body won’t get her into trouble. X wonders why God would have given her a body that caused her such problems. After catching X and Aman making out, Mami takes X to church and physically drags her before the statue of Mary to confess. She also makes her kneel on rice as penance. X makes a confession to Father Sean, saying she committed lust and disobeyed her parents. She recognizes, however, that God will only forgive her if she is really remorseful.

Caridad loves God’s Word, does mission work and values chastity. She sometimes teases X for her irreverent words but believes her friend will work through her questions. Twin has been an altar boy for years, volunteers at Bible camps and leads Bible study discussions. X says he doesn’t question the Bible like she does.

Other Belief Systems

She thinks that if God does exist, He knows everything she and Aman have done together. X says poetry club for her is the equivalent of prayer circle for Mami. X is convinced everything in the Bible is a metaphor, so God is a comparison to humans and humans are like Him. She says when we talk about ourselves, it’s like talking about God and being in church. She suggests God could be a he or a she.

X's perception of men colors her beliefs in God and the Catholic church. She believes religion is about men keeping women down and trying to force them to behave in certain ways. When the men she knows all seem weak or crude, she says it’s hard for her to submit to a belief system created and controlled by men.

Authority Roles

Mami is a legalistic Catholic who inflicts harsh punishments on X and criticizes men. X has heard rumors that Mami wanted to be a nun, but her parents made her marry Papi so she could come to the States. Papi is sullen and keeps to himself, having shunned drinking, women, dancing and everything else he used to love.

X says Papi is absent even though he is present. Both parents become more open and pleasant after the family starts attending counseling. Father Sean tries to be approachable and helpful to X as she struggles with her beliefs. Ms. Galiano, X’s English teacher, encourages her to find her voice by writing and performing poetry.


The Lord’s name is used in vain. Words including s---, a--, d--n, ho (and its Spanish equivalent, cuero), thot, suck, the f-word and horny appear frequently.


X says boys assume she is sexually fast because she is tall and has D-cups. She uses the word boobs a number of times. Some men and boys ask her to send them pictures of her in a thong. Some whisper in her ears, touch her bra straps or grab their crotches in front of her. Some rub up against her or make lewd offers. She says it isn’t anything she’s doing to provoke this harassment; it happens no matter where she is or what she’s wearing.

X has dreams of surrendering to some of these offers. X says kids in youth group are always asking Father Sean important questions about things like premarital sex, masturbation and smoking weed. X tells Caridad she’s tired of not being kissed, and she’s ready for a boy to come up behind her in the stairwell and feel her up. She wonders what would happen if she liked a boy too much and became addicted to sex. She masturbates in her bed at night and wonders why something that feels so good is dirty.

X and Aman make out in the train and in the park. They dance closely and suggestively at a party. When her parents find out, they call her names like cuero. She is annoyed that they’re so angry. She says she just got a tongue in her mouth, not a baby or an STD. She and Aman get naked and grope one another after X’s mother burns her journal. She says Aman has an erection, but X stops short of intercourse because she isn’t ready. She expects him to call her names and is surprised he’s not angry that she won’t go all the way.

X learns Twin is gay. Someone at school gives him a black eye because of it. X gives him a comic book with a gay superhero for his birthday and expresses her support. X has heard people say her father was “broken” and couldn’t get women pregnant. They said he tossed his seeds freely, not caring where they landed.

X notes that half the girls in Caridad’s strict Catholic school end up pregnant before they graduate. Caridad and X talk about lust and whether their parents lusted before they were married.

Discussion Topics

Drugs: X talks to the neighborhood drug dealers. Students at X’s school get high. Aman smokes pot sometimes and says some music sounds better when a person is high.

Lying/deception: X and Twin often deceive their parents about where they are and what they’re doing. X makes Caridad lie for her so Mami won’t know she’s skipping confirmation class.

Female issues: When X isn’t feeling good, Twin suggests it’s because of her period. X recalls starting her period in fifth grade. No one had told her what to do. She googled “blood down there” and stole money from Mami to buy tampons. She talks about shoving them into her bleeding body, likening it to the way Father Sean corks the sacramental wine at church. When Mami discovers what’s happened, she smacks X and cuts her lip. She yells that good girls, virgins, don’t use tampons, and she accuses X of being sexually active. She says she will buy pads for X and will pray for her because she is too young to be bleeding already.

Perception of men: X struggles to know what to believe about men. According to her mother, men are evil. Her own father could be described as impotent compared to the lively, enthusiastic ladies’ man he used to be. He is downtrodden by marriage and parenthood, no longer enjoying the music and dance he once did. He doesn’t drink anymore or hang out with other men for fun. X says he’s been converted into a man-whore. X hates how her brother is weak and never stands up for her. Most of the men X encounters look at her and speak to her like a sex object rather than a person. She’s crushed when Aman fails to stand up for her after he sees another student grope her.

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

16 and up


Elizabeth Acevedo






Record Label



HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers


On Video

Year Published



National Book Award Finalist, 2018


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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