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.
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Published: March 6th 2018
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Homophobia, Abuse, Bigotry, Body Shaming, Slut Shaming
“Burn it! Burn it. This is where the poems are,” I say, thumping a fist against my chest. “Will you burn me? Will you burn me, too?”
I wasn’t expecting to cry as much as I did? The first 40% was cool, a bit slow, but I was enjoying it and then 50% came in. And that little walnut that appears in your throat when your emotional? Yeah, that happened. I made it a point not to cry, but the walnut wouldn’t go away until 80% in. Then I started crying like no ones business for the rest of the book. No shame in my game.
We have a story told in verse about a Dominican American girl in Harlem dealing with the pressures to follow the rules of a strictly-religious mother and the desire to use her voice to express herself. Now, I’ve never read a book in verse, but the story flowed so seamlessly and her words made me think, made me feel. I relate to Xiomara’s story in the sense of being raised in a sheltered, religious home, terrified of my own body and the things it wanted, hating myself because what I was feeling and wanting was considered a “sin”and not wanting to disappoint my father, still wanting to be his little girl while finding myself.
We follow Xiomara as she discovers herself. Accepting her body, self love, dealing with abuse from her parents and questioning women and queer people in religion. That last one really clinged to me because it was something I could never put into coherent thoughts— she put everything I was and wasn’t thinking into perfect terms. Xiomara’s twin brother is a closeted gay and you can feel both of their fear of how the world will see him if he comes out.
There’s a bit of first love in this one and I liked it— it’s detrimental to character development. Not in the sense of love fixes all but again, Xiomara is questioning everything right now, not once does the romance stall or negatively do anything to the story.
I think every teen should read this. Whether you relate to the struggles of our main and side characters or you have a love for poetry. This is such an important and necessary read.