Following hot on the heels of The Poet X, Clap When You Land is Elizabeth Acevedo’s second verse novel. It tells the story of two unwitting sisters—Camino in the Dominican Republic and Yahaira in New York—who learn of each other’s existence and their father’s secret double life when he dies in a tragic plane crash.

Yahaira—the lucky New Yorker who gets to be with her father throughout the year—is a dark-skinned chess champion blessed with a gentle, garden-loving girlfriend and the funds to pursue her wildest dreams. Camino—the poor Dominican relegated by their joint father to summer visits and sporadic phone calls—is a light-skinned sea-loving island girl who dreams of studying medicine in the big smoke and leaving behind a homeland that, for all its abundance, eats away at her livelihood.

From the colourful houses of the Dominican Republic to the boroughs of New York, this 400-page landscape of considered and crafted verse feels majestic in its scope as it covers everything from colourism to how loss makes space for gain. In her author’s note, Acevedo states that she was inspired by the real Dominican Republic-bound flight AA587 which crashed in 2001. While the story was largely lost in the wake of the 9/11 news storm, Clap When You Land zooms in on a forgotten event that shook the community apart to craft a story of remembrance, resilience, and representation in loudly lucid lines.

Clap When You Land zooms in on a forgotten event that shook the community apart to craft a story of remembrance, resilience, and representation in loudly lucid lines.”

Clap When You Land’s verse is certainly measured: there is a lot of pressure on the words to hit the mark, to ‘land’. It takes time to get your bearings and once you do, the plot’s path becomes somewhat predictable. A significant chunk of the novel is spent awaiting the inevitable climax in which Yahaira meets Camino at their father’s funeral. When things do happen, such as Camino’s assault by the predatory El Cero who stalks the fringes of the novel, the verse runs skipping over these at lightning speed.

The reticent verse style may also be to blame for the cursory character development. Yahaira’s girlfriend ‘Dre seems too much a cardboard cut-out carelessly inserted to tick representation boxes. Most troubling is Yahaira’s mother, who vacillates between being the father’s trophy wife and brief snippets of a strong woman with a complex backstory that is never fleshed out.

That said, this is a womanist story that celebrates all the ways in which women love one another. The father, who we never meet, operates as an empty core at the centre of the narrative. His death is a functional catalyst that brings together women who choose to love, rather than hate, one another. After losing her mother young, Camino gains a welcoming stepmother who refuses to punish the child for the sins of her double-dealing father.

“Acevedo launches into a verse adventure that holds you up high and does not ever let you down.”

Clap When You Land’s real story lies in the elegance of its musical lines filled with moving word choices and masterful endings, attesting to a poet who has reached the height of her craft. From the first few lines about Camino’s Dominican barrio drowning in mud and poverty, Acevedo launches into a verse adventure that holds you up high and does not ever let you down. In spite of the sometimes overly dramatic tale of crashing planes, long-lost siblings, and family intrigue, Clap When You Land holds you comfortably between warm lines and pages. This is a book to get lost in: you will surrender to the poignant verse as it masterfully pulls the puppet strings of its characters and your heart.

By Jane Link

JANE LINK is a master’s student and an editor for Split Lip MagazineThe Publishing Post, and her own beloved bigblackbooks. When not trying to land her first job in publishing, Jane loves to read historical fiction, self-help, and everything by Black voices. She dreams of one day setting up an independent dedicated to publishing those voices. You can find her on Twitter @verybookishjane.

ELIZABETH ACEVEDO is the New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X, which won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Carnegie medal, the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, and the Walter Award. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, and resides in Washington, DC with her love. You can find her on her website.

Clap When You Land is a fierce verse novel based on the other 2001 plane crashClap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Published by Hot Key on 5 May 2020
Genres: Afro-Latinx, YA, Romance, Coming-of-age, #ownvoices, Novel-in-verse
Pages: 417
Format: Paperback
Buy on Bookshop.org
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people ... In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal's office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash. Separated by distance - and Papi's secrets - the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they've lost everything of their father, they learn of each other. Papi's death uncovers all the painful truths he kept hidden, and the love he divided across an ocean. And now, Camino and Yahaira are both left to grapple with what this new sister means to them, and what it will now take to keep their dreams alive. In a dual narrative novel in verse that brims with both grief and love, award-winning and bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.