Monthly Archives: September 2018

The Poet X, by Elizabeth Acevedo

Poet XXiomara Batista’s Dominican mother never wanted to marry or have children. She wanted to be a nun. She loves her kids, but she is distraught that Xiomara is delaying her confirmation at church, and when she finds out that Xiomara has been asking Father Sean challenging questions, she clamps down on her even harder.

Xiomara hates it when the boys make comments about her curves when she walks down the street in Harlem. She is tall, with wild hair, and she holds back the world with her fists and tough talk. She pours her heart into her very private poetry notebook: her doubts about God, her confusion about her mother and father’s relationship, her hesitant forays into growing up, her fears for her brother, and her timid and hopeful feelings for a boy named Aman. They share a love of music. She lets him hear some of her poetry, and he names her X.

Her mother would never allow this.

Elizabeth Acevedo has written this semi-autobiographical novel in verse, with a couple of school essays woven in. The poetry allows X’s love of words to express the struggles of a young woman who loves her immigrant parents, but who cannot be true to herself without hurting them. Her voice is at once fragile and fierce, exploring cultural divisions, first love, faith and doubt, and the human need to speak freely and openly to the world. When a lid is screwed down more and more tightly while pressure continues to build, an explosion is inevitable.

Recommended for middle teens to adults, with a bit of strong language and sexual content. Caution: May cause spontaneous versifying and a sudden urge to participate in a poetry slam. Ironically, the last line of this novel is “And isn’t that what a poem is? A lantern glowing in the dark,” which I read by lantern light during a power outage from Hurricane Florence.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Educated, by Tara Westover

Educated audioTara grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon family on a mountain in Idaho. Her father sold scrap, and her mother was an unlicensed midwife who concocted herbal tinctures for sale. The family was saving up food and firearms so that they could survive the coming revolution. Her father was already a survivalist when the Ruby Ridge Massacre happened not far away, and there was no turning back after that. Since her father did not trust anything to do with the government, the children did not go to school, and although he told them to tell people that they were homeschooled, there was no education going on whatsoever.

As Tara grew into adolescence, she was taught to be ashamed of her changing body, so she wore loose men’s clothing and worked in the scrapyard along with her brothers. They had no insurance, took frightening risks, and endured horrifying accidents. Her father would not allow them to go to a hospital or visit a regular doctor. Even when one of her brothers had a piece of his skull missing and his brain was clearly visible, her father told her to bring him home so that his mother could take care of him.

The best outcome of childhoods like Tara’s would be to grow up and leave forever, but the underlying physical and psychological abuse kept her bound to her home. The only acceptable future in her parents’ eyes was for Tara to marry within their faith, have children, and become a midwife like her mother. Tara longed to go to college, but she could barely read. It was the shame, above all, that kept her from reaching out for help. She even hid the physical injuries she endured from her sadistic brother.

I had to keep reminding myself that this riveting story is a memoir, just so that I could keep going without fear that Tara would die at any moment. I found myself saying out loud, “No, don’t go back home!” and “No, don’t get in the car with your brother!” The power of the love that children have for even worthless parents, which I witnessed firsthand as a foster mother decades ago, is astounding and sometimes unfathomable to outside observers. Hateful words, inflicted on a little child year after year by adults who should be trustworthy, can gouge permanent wounds that leave disfiguring scars on their souls. On the other hand, loving adults who speak healing and encouraging words can bring a triumph that seems impossible.

I highly recommend this popular memoir, which I listened to on audiobook for reasons that I will relate on TheReaderWrites in a few weeks. The narration, by Julia Whelan, was excellent.

Disclaimer: I listened to a digital audio version of this book, downloaded from our library. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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