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Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land is written in a novel-in-verse style that makes it an easy read. By easy, I don’t mean boring or without substance. By easy I mean it flows like song lyrics, and I was flipping through the pages at a maddening speed. As I got closer to the end, I wasn’t ready for the story to end. I had bonded to sisters Yahaira Rios, Camino Rios, and Tia. This book not only explored grief, loss, and mourning, but also touched upon familial relationships, female relationships, strength, and Dominican culture. The verse style pays homage to the Dominican culture—from the way Spanish is spoken on the island, to the music, and the dancing. The title of the book honors a Hispanic tradition of clapping when your plane lands. I remember as a child when visiting family in Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic and clapping with joy when the flight landed. The first time it happened when I was old enough to question the act, my mom explained to me that we clap because we are giving thanks for making it, for landing safely.

I had both a wonderful and heart-rending experience reading this book. At times it was hard to read. The subject matter coupled with the emotions that Yahaira and Camino were feeling felt too close to home. As they mourned the loss of their father, it brought up memories of my own experience of losing my father. It reminded me of what I went through and felt. But I also felt an immense sense of pride and joy as a Dominican woman reading a book about two Dominican sisters and their family who speaks like my family with Spanish peppered throughout, mentions of authentic food eaten on the island, and growing up within this culture.

“There are no rules, no expectations, no rising to the occasion.
When you learn news like this, there is only

At times when a member of your family dies, secrets have a way of coming out. Yahaira Rios has spent her life in Morningside Heights with her mother and her larger-than-life father. For as long as she can remember her father has traveled to the Dominican Republic every summer but she’s never thought too much of it. Camino Rios has spent her life on the island living with her Tia looking forward to her father's visits every summer and dreaming of the day she graduates from high school and is able to attend Columbia and be closer to her father. Their world is torn apart when their father's flight crashes in the Atlantic. This tragic event—which is based on a real crash—causes their once separate lives to collide into one another.

Exploring familial relationships, Acevedo reminds us that families aren’t black and white and neither are their problems. All families look different and that is evident in the book. Each woman in the family is strong and fierce but it is through their relationships with one another that they learn what it means to be strong together, to share an unbreakable bond. Although shaky at first Camino and Zoila—Yahaira’s mother—eventually come to an understanding that resembles a mother-daughter relationship. The loss of her husband forces Zoila to come face to face with everything she left behind on the island, good and bad memories. It also forces her to confront everything she feels towards Camino and all the blame she places on her, while Camino realizes and comes to understand how hard the past 16 years have been for Zoila and how much trauma and how many secrets she has had to carry.

As she begins to accept Camino she in a way gains back a part of her late husband. She is able to forgive him and his secrets. This allows her to begin to build a relationship with Camino and repair the one with Yahaira. In spite of her previous judgement and opinion of Camino, Zoila realizes that Camino needs a change and needs to leave her home if she has any chance to have the future her father hoped for her.

While Camino longs to live in the states and envies her sister for everything she had that she feels was taken from her, Yahaira wishes to visit her ancestral land and meet the sister she was deprived of, the last connection to her late father. Camino seems to believe that Yahira has led a blessed life with no trauma, no heartbreak. This includes at times thinking that the loss of their father belongs to just her. She believes that her father was the only way out of a country where in her words girls her age become pregnant instead of finishing school. Camino isn’t just mourning the loss of her father, but of her freedom and her future. She’s afraid of what would happen to her were she to remain on the island, especially without her father’s visits and protection. She would continue to live her life in the shadow of the vast resorts that sit against her neighborhood. Acevedo reminds the reader that while Camino’s father made sure that she and her Tia were taken care of, they are still poor and live in a country where foreigners come and buy up land to build resorts for wealthy individuals to vacation in while the locals have to fend for scraps. When her father died, what little security Camino had was ripped out from under her.

This is a portrayal of how a grieving family mourns the loss of a larger-than-life man and sifts through the secrets and lies he told to protect them. And it begs the question, how do we come to terms with the truth and begin the healing process? While for Camino and Yahaira and their family it may seem like the pain of their loss will never subside, the world continues to spin. And that is something that happens with loss. You feel as if you're in a bubble, isolated from everyone. While you continue to mourn, others continue on with their lives and that causes anger and envy. Why should those around us not have to partake in the trauma? Why are their lives not put on pause?

I will be completely transparent: upon finishing Clap When You Land I cried. Not only because of how much I related to the loss and love in the book but because it showed me that sometimes families can overcome obstacles and come out stronger. While the death of their father may have been devastating, it offered an opportunity for the sisters to meet. Through their relationship they are able to maintain a connection to their father, a link. The end offers us a bit of closure, a bit of light in which they can start a new life.

Clap When You Land

By Elizabeth Acevedo

412 pages. 2020.


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