Title: Clap When You Land
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Release Date: May 5th 2020
TW: death of a parent, sexual assault, mentions of sex trafficking
Elizabeth Acevedo delivers her most emotionally-charged novel with Clap When You Land, chronicling the grief of two sisters who discover one another’s existence only after the death of their father. Every summer Camino’s father visits her in the Dominican Republic where she lives with her aunt since her mother’s passing a decade earlier. And at the end of every summer when he leaves for the States, she wishes she could go with him. Yahaira’s relationship with her father has been strained since she learned of a secret he’s been keeping. Her resentment has built up in silence as she’s never found the courage to confront him. Just when she thinks she’s found the words, he has to leave for work like he does every summer in the Dominican Republic. As Camino awaits her father’s arrival and Yahaira says goodbye to him for the summer, the unthinkable happens. Their father’s plane crashes, leaving no survivors. What follows is a heartbreaking story of two girls picking up the pieces of their lives in the midst of loss, discovering that neither of them knew their father completely, and figuring out if there is a way to move forward with the wounds their father left behind.
Camino has aspirations that have always felt far reaching but still possible. Having assisted her Tía Solana with her work as a curandera, Camino wants to become a doctor. Her father’s financial support has provided her with an education that not many young people in her county have. When he dies, her whole world feels like it’s flipped upside down. The stability he provided is gone and her future suddenly becomes muddled. Finding out that she has a sister that lives in the States feels like a blow when she’s never been allowed to live with her father and when at the end of every summer, he left her to return to his other daughter who will never know the struggles she has had. The Dominican Republic has been exploited and its goods used to fill the pockets of foreigners, meanwhile its people are barely getting by. To Camino, Yahaira represents the life she should have had, but will probably never get to with her father’s passing.
Yahaira had already began to grapple with the fact that her father wasn’t the person she thought he was. They had been growing apart and she never was able to forgive him for the secret she discovered before his passing. When he dies, she regrets not confronting him but also doesn’t know what to do with the anger she still feels toward him or how to go about forgiving someone who is no longer alive. Her mother comes apart with the news of her husband’s passing and Yahaira does her best to keep them both afloat. Yahaira’s girlfriend Dre is the one person she feels she can be vulnerable around. Their relationship offers some of the sweetest moments in the novel. When Yahaira meets Camino, she cannot help but feel inadequate in comparison. She’s grapples with being a part of the diaspora and not feeling like she is Dominican enough to belong to this country.
Clap When You Land demonstates Acevedo’s gift of storytelling through her latest novel-in-verse. Poetry is the chosen medium used to convey the depth of emotion the two POV characters experience throughout the story. Acevedo writing is succinct but no less powerful and wrought with emotion. Grief is present in every interaction Camino and Yahaira have with other people and with each other. Both characters go through stages of shock, denial, acceptance. Acevedo captures the trauma of losing someone, how this life-altering devastation affects you physically, emotionally, and psychologically. For Camino and Yahaira, the discovery that there is someone out there who understands exactly what they are feeling is marred by the fact that the person they are mourning lied to them their whole lives.
Clap When You Land explores how complicated grief can be, how it can unravel your entire world, but how it can also forge unbreakable bonds. Acevedo’s latest is a somber read but still makes room for light in the darkest of places.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★