Dominican-American teen Xiomara Batisa is one half of a pair of miraculous twins – their birth to older parents caused her philandering father to change his ways and reaffirmed their mother’s devotion to her Catholic faith. Her genius brother Xavier skipped a grade and is living up to their miracle status, while she defends his comic book collection and feels inadequate.
Target seems to be shelving more and more diverse novels that I’m interested in reading. There’s been some buzz about this one, but I didn’t know many details. I think because of the title, I assumed it had to do with Malcolm X and just wasn’t interested. But that’s not what this book is about at all. This book is about poetry and love and family and the power of being who you really are.
But let me back up a bit. There is a love story in this, but don’t get turned off by the heavy romance early on, because this is not a love story. Rather, this is about Xiomara’s sophomore year of high school, and how she learned to be more confident in herself, and how her family relationships completely changed.
There is quite a bit of swearing, some poems about how Xiomara gets hot and heavy with her forbidden love, and references to drug use (which is never even considered by the main character but common in her neighborhood and at her school). Xiomara is frequently subject to unwelcome and negative advances even though she is a church girl and has never had a boyfriend. Her parents also take a very negative approach to sex and romance, with unrealistic expectations of her. They blame her for male reactions to her body in a classic example of victim-shaming. (But don’t worry, Acevedo is constantly calling out this and other problematic views.)
In fact, this book is perfect for young #MeToo girls whose bodies look older. Xiomara opens with the way others react to her body, how it has shaped her, and how she hates it. She feels the need to aggressively defend herself, but outside of those outbursts communicates very little. Her poignant and painful memories of physically blossoming early recur several times, and they are one of the strongest points in this book.
There are also quite a lot of poems about family, belonging, and religion. Xiomara questions her faith and the Bible quite a lot as she is struggling. I felt that this was handled well, in the end, but I mention it for parents or teachers who may be sensitive to that aspect.
I’ve reviewed several novels in verse, and I am not a huge fan of the genre, so it’s rare for me to wholeheartedly recommend one. Most novels in verse take a loss in either the poetry or some aspect of the novelization. This one delivers both. While not all of the poems would make sense outside of the novel (and there are also some notes, lists, or messages included that aren’t poetry but help advance the story), the vast majority of the poems could stand alone.
Reading the Target special edition especially illuminated the amount of thought put into the narrative arc. The bonus matter includes several poems that Acevedo counts as some of her favorites, but explains that they did not fit into the narrative journey she was forming. I would have to agree, and this look into the wise choices an author can make should be especially illuminating for teachers and young writers.
Definitely recommended to all, but especially to anyone who loves poetry. I’m hoping for a sequel from her brother’s point of view, and then after that her best friend’s sequel, and just in general I loved this. All the buzz about Elizabeth Acevedo is well deserved, and I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.