April’s Book of the Month: Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acevedo

A photograph of the book 'Clap When You Land' by Elizabeth Acevedo, against a backdrop of pink flowers. The paperback book cover features illustrations of the main characters, two girls, with only half of each of their faces visible.

Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acevedo’s third young adult novel, is an enchanting read. Published in May 2020 and written entirely in verse, the story of two sisters meeting after a tragedy and building their relationship has quickly received the same critical acclaim as Acevedo’s previous novels. The theme of new beginnings runs throughout this book and so I have chosen it for April as it seemed perfect for a spring read.

Our story follows two 16-year-old girls, Camino and Yahaira, who narrate alternating chapters. The girls are strangers to one another and live very different lives. Unknown to either of them, they are tied together by love and by secrets. Camino lives with her Tía in a small house in the Dominican Republic. She waits all year for the visits from her father in the summer. Yahaira, meanwhile, lives with her parents in New York City. She loves her Papi, but their relationship is fractured, and she hates the months he spends away from home on ‘business’. When a plane from New York to the Dominican Republic plummets into the Atlantic leaving no survivors, secrets emerge; Camino and Yahaira share a surname, they shared a father. Throughout the rest of the novel, the girls grapple with their grief and their new-found knowledge that they are sisters.

Acevedo’s beautiful, lyrical style seemed a perfect fit for a story which brims with emotion.

Whilst the fact that the book was entirely in verse took me a while to adjust to, this form of narration packed simple, yet powerful, punches such as in these lines from Camino:

“I’m the child her father left her for in the summers.

While she is the child my father left me for my entire life.

I do not want to hate a girl with a glowing name.”

In terms of plot, Clap When You Land was not what I was expecting from reading the blurb. The book felt quite slow to start, however, once I got to know the characters, I raced through it. Both protagonists were extremely readable and well-developed, and Acevedo hit the balance between the two perfectly. I found that when I was reading from Yahaira, I was desperate to find out how Camino was doing, and vice versa. Acevedo mastered this in a way that some authors don’t, with one character becoming more dominant than the other in their storytelling. I thought the plot did occasionally falter at times, with very little action in the middle, but the description of place and emotion made up for that and brought the novel to life. Very excitingly, Made Up Stories have acquired the rights to adapt the novel to television, something I think the gorgeous imagery will lend itself perfectly to.

Another reason that Clap When You Land made the list for my Book of the Month is the history behind it. The dedication reads “In memory of the lives lost on American Airlines flight 587.”. In the Author’s Note, Acevedo writes of how she was thirteen years old when the 2001 crash rocked her New York Dominican community. The book therefore pays homage to those who lost their lives on this flight; 90% of whom were of Dominican descent. It seems that the book was inspired by the stories of those who were on board. She also mentions the title, and how in her first memory of visiting the Dominican Republic at eight years old, the other passengers clapped when the plane landed. She writes of how she was “enamoured with the many ways Dominicans celebrate touching down onto our island”. Acevedo’s love of her Dominican culture shines through in the novel and her desire to “commemorate that moment in time” is certainly upheld.

Although inspired by a tragedy, at its heart Clap When You Land is a love story. It is a love story about the love between family, particularly in unconventional family structures. There were very few romantic interests, and the book by no means revolved around them, which made a refreshing change. The only major love interest is Dre, Yahaira’s girlfriend, who was a wonderful character, one who radiated comfort and kindness. Camino sums it up when she says, “Where did you find her? & is there a clone of her somewhere that I could marry?”. I also loved that the story is fiercely feminist. There are very few male characters and the women really light the way. Tía was perhaps my favourite as she was such a strong and inspiring matriarch. I thought Acevedo explored the complexities of the connections in the novel well, my only complaint is that I wish we could’ve seen more of Camino and Yahaira together. I very rarely long for sequels but on finishing Clap When You Land, I was itching to know more about the two sisters and their blossoming friendship.

At the end of the novel, Acevedo writes, “In 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.”. This is a perfect summary of the novel, and from what I have seen, much of Acevedo’s other work too. Overall, Clap When You Land is a beautiful and heart wrenching story of grief, loss, and the love that can bind two people together.

By Charlotte Rose