Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (Hot Key Books 2020)

Clap When You Land is a young adult (YA) novel by Elizabeth Acevedo about two sisters whose father dies in a plane crush. Camino who lives in Dominican Republic awaits her father at the airport for his annual stay from New York City. But she encounters numb wrecking news about a plane crush.

“I am beginning to learn

That life-altering news

Is often like a premature birth:

Ill-times, catching someone unaware,

Emotionally unprepared

& often where they shouldn`t be:’-Camino

Yahaira in New York City is called to the principal`s office to a distressed mother who then informs her about the plane crush which carried her father.

`there are no rules, no expectations, no rising to the occasion,

When you learn news like this, there is only

                                                                                       Falling.’- Yahaira

Due to the plane crash, secrets are revealed since their genie can`t keep them in a bottle any more. They are mounted onto the loved ones left behind unceremoniously. Camino finds out about her sister and frighteningly reaches out to her. Yahaira on the other hand knows about the other `mum.’ They both grapple with this new knowledge amidst loss and grief.

The girls battle with the newness of not having Papi around. Papi who was their saviour. Papi who kept secrets and none leaked into the other. Papi who loved them both equally but couldn`t protect them from the stench of his secrets.

 Camino is fighting the fight of her life and her co-fighter is now dead leaving her life in suspense. Yahaira needs someone who understands her raw pain but her understanding partner is dead. She wonders what to do with her pain.

“Papi, who I know is here too. He did

Build that castle he always promised.

Even in the wind, & rain, & night:

Even the light: has come to our side.

We stand for her. For each other.’’

Camino desires to go to New York and have a good education. She doesn`t want to end up like most girls in the Dominican Republic who drop out of school and are co-opted into sex slavery. But with the death of her Papi and El Cero watching her every move, this path shines brighter and brighter.

The story holds many surprises and suspense in equal measure. So much happens in the book that I didn`t see coming and I`m left stunned. The language is brilliant. The book is peppered with Spanish phrases which took me back to Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi`s writing. She unashamedly uses Luganda phrases in her books. This grounds the book in so many ways. However, some Spanish words weren`t entirely translated and this affected my grasp of these aspects in the book. I imagined this is how non-Ugandans feel when reading Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi`s work or any other work that embodies languages that aren`t their own.

This was my first time encountering a novel- in -verse (`A verse novel is a type of narrative poetry in which a novel-length narrative is told through the medium of poetry rather than prose.’-Wikipedia) and I must say I was shocked and bored at the start but then I got the hang of this genre of writing and found the book delightful.

Clap When You Land beautifully explores loss, grief, reconciliation and family secrets & dynamics, colorism. Themes I fully understand well. I understand the loss and grief of a father and all the otherness that comes with a father`s loss especially in Africa. I related with Camino`s desire for more out of life. Her desire to push the envelope and be free.

Side note: Elizabeth Acevedo wrote Clap When You Land as a tribute to the people who died in the September 11, 2001, flight AA87 which crashed to the ground in Queens, New York. The plane was on its way to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. This is a beautiful and moving tribute. And because of Elizabeth, the victims will forever be remembered because it was captured in fiction.

Elizabeth on why she wrote Clap When You Land, `I wanted to write a story that considered who matters and deserves attention in the media, as well as a more intimate portrayal of what it means to discover secrets, to discover family, to discover the depths of your own character in the face of great loss and –gain.’’

Would you read this book? Have you read a novel-in-verse before?

Read more book tales here and here.

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