Review for "The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is a beautiful book.
Xiomara Batista is a Dominican teenager growing up in present-day Harlem, NYC. She writes poems in her notebook to express her honest thoughts, mostly on her best friend, her twin brother, her father, and her ultra-religious, overbearing mother. Outside of her brother and her best friend Xiomara does not have much of a social life, she is forced to attend church services and confirmation classes by her mother. Her life changes, however, when she falls in love with a boy from her school and is encouraged to pursue her poetry by one of her teachers.
A lot of the trophes in this book are a bit cliche: first love, parental misunderstanding, the questioning of religion, discovering one’s voice through poetry. Oddly though, while reading this I never really considered these things as ‘done before,’ I just found myself getting lost in the book and letting Xiomara’s words shine through. I loved the poetry here, I loved Xiomara.
I normally don’t care too much for novels in verse, I find most poetic narrative styles kind of stuffy and trite. Not so with this book, I could have read this for another 100 pages. Very well done, highly recommend.
Review for "Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds (2017)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Not the first novel in verse I’ve read but certainly one of the best.
Will is a teenager who has just lost his older brother in a shocking act of violence. The morning after, he finds his brother’s loaded gun and gets on his building’s elevator, going down, in pursuit of his brother’s murderer to kill him. At each floor, the elevator stops and a different person from Will’s past “gets” on, imploring him to think about his choices before it’s too late. It’s a fascinatingly interesting story, one that I think I actually respected more for the fact that it was written in verse–extraneous details skipped, only the bare bones here. It’s 300 pages or so but only took a couple of hours to read. The ending was a bit confusing, but after several reads I came to appreciate it for what it was–completely and superbly ambiguous to the reader.
As a former teacher I can see this being used in middle or high school classrooms, because there’s so many dialogue and discussion possibilities present with this book. It takes place during anytime and anyplace and anywhere and doesn’t offer any easy answers. Despite inevitable criticism to the contrary, I don’t see why this book should make the problem of violence a simple one, as everyone knows that it’s a complicated cycle that repeats itself over and over again. It’s also great reading for adults like me, I loved this book immensely.
This novel sets a pretty high bar for all other YA poetry books, which is good because I am starting to feel that this form of story-telling is becoming somewhat over saturated. Definitely recommended.
Review for "Tricks" by Ellen Hopkins (2009)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This is my second book by Ellen Hopkins. My first was “Crank,” her novel in verse about a girl hooked on crystal meth, based loosely on the life of her own daughter. Hopkins is quite a prolific YA writer, tackling many of the issues that people tend to avoid when writing for teenagers. She’s written about drug abuse, mental health issues, sexual abuse, eating disorders. I’m not so much a fan of her verse as I am her fearlessness, because I admit that I’m drawn to her books for much of the reason I imagine most people are, to see how certain issues are portrayed for a YA audience.
“Tricks” is no exception; it tells the story of five teenagers who find themselves for various reasons lost in the dangerous world of prostitution. Eden is the daughter of a conservative religious family who is sent away to a Bible camp; Seth is a farm boy who struggles with his sexuality and finds himself a Vegas sugar daddy; Whitney is a goody-goody who stumbles into the arms of a drug-dealing pimp; Ginger is from a broken home and her entrance into the sex trade mirrors her own mother’s, and Cody is a kid who sells himself to men to ease his gambling debts.
I would have preferred to read each character’s story straight through, much like a short story. Instead, Hopkins focuses on one character for while, then abruptly switches to another. The constant starting and stopping of the narrative made it hard to get to know each character and made the book as a whole hard to follow. It never really had a good sense of cohesion and gave it the feel that it was five separate stories instead of one. There was some overlap of the characters, but it was fairly minor (one character mentioning another did occur, but only in passing).
This book is also really explicit in its sexual scenes. I won’t go into detail but if you’re unfamiliar with gay porn or girl-girl-guy threesomes I would leave this book on the shelf. I’m in my 30’s and I felt uncomfortable reading it, not because I’m a prude, but for the sake of the audience it was written for. Personally I wouldn’t allow my teen son to read this unless he was super-mature, which he isn’t. The details were a little too salacious for my taste and the story got lost in the process.
There is a second story in this series that picks up where the action of this story left off. I may read it eventually, but for right now I think I’m good with this.