Revisiting Girlhood

By Emily QuintanillaApril 11, 2024

Revisiting Girlhood
Amid a cultural re-embrace of “girlhood,” Emily Quintanilla revisits Sadie Shorr-Parks’s review of Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel, The Poet X—which provides an alternate angle on femininity, identity, and adolescence.

There has been a consistent cultural fascination in the US with the concept of “girlhood” since at least last summer, the season that brought us Greta Gerwig’s Barbie and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. Still, I can’t help wondering—what even is “girlhood”? Post-Barbie, the notion of girlhood has manifested as a rediscovery of the ultrafeminine. As Isabel Cristo notes in The Cut, this rekindling has often been expressed through aesthetics; our re-embrace of femininity has been marked by the color pink, bows, and “coquettish schoolgirl skirts and ballet flats.” Yet Cristo also observes that these innocent, kid-like associations can imbue girlhood with a sort of “powerlessness.” Is this an accurate portrayal of what “girl culture” is all about?

Revisiting LARB’s archive offers a different take on girlish adolescence through Sadie Shorr-Parks’s review of Elizabeth Acevedo’s debut novel, The Poet X (2018). The Poet X is about the coming-of-age of Xiomara, a teenage girl from Harlem. Xiomara’s experience with “girlhood” is not so glossy. In fact, especially as she grows older and carves her own path in the world, this idea is defined by conflict in both body and mind. Amid this tumult and change, Xiomara finds an outlet for her struggles: poetry. According to Shorr-Parks, “Xiomara’s poems catalog the shackling—and often competing—demands placed on her.”

Acevedo, a National Poetry Slam Champion, is no stranger to engaging girlhood and womanhood at the conceptual level. As Shorr-Parks notes, “Acevedo’s poems document battle after battle over conflicting ideas of what it means to be a woman.” In this case, art imitates life. Both Xiomara and Acevedo depart from expectations and pursue individual versions of womanhood. For Xiomara, this means finding a sense of agency and autonomy in her new writer’s persona, Poet X.

“Teenage girls are frequently looked at but rarely listened to,” writes Shorr-Parks. However you interpret Barbie’s themes or Swift’s lyrics, their statement resonates as much as ever in 2024. Still, while girlhood is typically associated with the external, The Poet X reminds us that female adolescence can be so much more than consumerism and a state of powerlessness; at its best, this period is about celebrating individualism and finding your voice. Shorr-Parks ends her review by confirming that Acevedo’s “novel serves as a strong reminder of the galvanizing effect writing can have on one’s life: ‘the more I write,’ says Xiomara, ‘the braver I become.’”

LARB Contributor

Emily Quintanilla recently graduated from the University of Southern California with a BA in English with an emphasis in creative writing. She worked as an LARB copydesk intern during the spring of 2024.


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