Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo explores how a father’s dual life impacts two daughters with two different identities who have to unify as one to move forward past tragedy.

Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios are half-sisters, but they don’t know about each other until their father dies in an airplane crash flying to the Dominican Republic like he always does for the summer.

Camino, who lives on the island, is devastated, especially since she had lost her mother years before to illness. Her best friend, Carline, is occupied with her boyfriend and their impending baby. Camino’s aunt, Tia Solana, takes care of her and the community as a healer. With hopeless New York City university dreams, Camino throws herself into training to become a healer, so she can follow in her aunt’s footsteps and assist her friend.

Yahaira lives on an island, too. Born and raised in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan, she was a promising chess player until she found out her father’s secret. As the secret eats her alive, she faces her father’s untimely death and leans on her girlfriend, Dre.

The closer it gets to burying their father, the more secrets Camino and Yahaira’s extended family reveal, including about each other. Chatting via social media, they try to accept each other in their grief and unite to make sure their father receives the proper burial.

This is so far one of the top young adult novels in verse. Another competitor is Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi, who is also Dominican, and Dr. Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five. Novels in verse are becoming more popular in YA literature, but it’s difficult to deepen characters and storylines when writing long poems in the form of chapters. But Elizabeth Acevedo―an awardee for her previous two YA novels, The Poet X, and With the Fire on High, does an excellent job of navigating two separate lives handling unexpected grief. She says she was inspired by the real-life crash of American Airlines Flight 587, where most of the passengers had ties to the Dominican Republic and traveled back and forth from New York. Since it occurred weeks after 9/11 and had no ties to terrorism, the tragedy lost steam in American media as the Dominican community stateside continued to grieve. The loss of a parent hits the two characters but so do the lies that their father kept. The trauma and betrayal are spelled out in the pages as we get to know Camino and Yahaira more, especially when they are roaming through their own labyrinths of confusion.

Overall, the portrayal of two sisters interpreting their father’s fate miles apart from each other without knowing each other elevates the emotions in this novel. The gravity of the situation also feels authentic as the main characters try to figure out what’s next for them at a time when they are preparing to enter the real world.

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