Rating: 5 stars
CBR14 Bingo: Verse (the whole book is written as poems)
Xiomara and her brother Xavier (who Xiomara mostly refers to as Twin) are miracle babies, born late in life to their parents, who never believed they would have children. Growing up in Harlem, New York, they're nevertheless part of the Dominican culture of their immigrant parents. Their mother is deeply religious and was possibly going to be a nun before she met their dad, whose wandering eye meant he got around plenty before marrying. While her mother goes to Mass every day, X doesn't even think she believes in God, but obviously can't say this to her mother. Her twin doesn't argue with their mother, he's the gentle one, which means X has been forced to become the fierce and protective one, making sure he isn't hurt. Since he's some kind of genius, they go to different schools now, though.
Obviously, even thinking about boys is completely forbidden, and for the most part, X isn't interested anyway. Having matured early, she's had to fend off catcalls and felt embarrassed about her body since early puberty. But then there's her new lab partner. He's different.
X lives for poetry, she writes it all down in a leather-bound journal given to her by her twin. She pours out all her dreams, fears, longing, and passion on the pages, making very sure to keep it hidden from her parents. Her new English teacher notices X's affinity for poetry and verse and invites her to join the slam poetry club. But poetry club is on the same night as X's confirmation classes, and there's no way X's mama is ever going to let her choose poetry over God.
This book has been nominated for and has won so many various literary prizes that at least one of the covers I've seen is more or less covered in golden labels. I've heard of it a lot over the years since it came out in 2018, but somehow, I convinced myself that reading a novel created entirely in verse would be too difficult, or something. I don't really have a good excuse, except the fact that my digital library and my TBR lists are so long now that I get very easily distracted, and there's always something newer and shinier out there to distract me.
This book made me smile, it made me want to hug both Xiomara and her brother, it made me want to yell at her mother and it actually had me gasping out loud, not to mention ugly crying in parts. I'm amazed at how much tension, plot development, character growth, and emotion this book managed, while all the chapters, each a poem of about a page or a page and a half, are short and easy to just speed through. No long descriptive passages and all the interior monologues of our protagonist come out in the pages of her poetry.
The book made me feel all the feels, and I'm glad that thanks to my DuoLingo Spanish lessons I actually understood most of the Spanish that Xiomara intersperses her English with. I am sorry it took me so long to get around to reading the book, but the upside is that I now have two other Elizabeth Acevedo books to look forward to, as well.
Judging a book by its cover: I think the cover is a little bit too generically YA, considering the amazing contents of the book. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's very similar to so many other YA books. This book is remarkable and deserves to stand out.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
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