Published: 5th May 2020
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Trigger warnings: Grief, sexual assault
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.
Whenever I read something by Elizabeth Acevedo, I am frequently left awestruck by her wonderful ability to make a very small amount of words seem like so many. Almost every single one of her lines tells an extremely powerful story, and makes each of the protagonists’ thoughts and feelings seem utterly tangible. This is evident throughout Clap When You Land, and as such it is an excellent read.
Written solely in a poetic verse that exudes meaning, it tells the poignant and somewhat bittersweet story of two teenage girls who discover each other following a tragedy, exploring a whole host of complex family dynamics in the process. Along the way, we have multiple perspectives and settings, and their authenticity makes it so easy to connect with the book.
Camino lives with her aunt in the Dominican Republic, where she has the ambition of becoming a doctor. Her mother died ten years previously, but every year she looks forward to the arrival of her father, who comes to stay for three months before returning to the United States. But when Camino arrives at the airport to greet him this time, she is met with the devastating news that his plane crashed into the sea.
Meanwhile in New York, Yahaira is at school when she is called to the office. Her mother is waiting there, and she is given the news that the plane carrying her father has crashed. He had been her hero and taught her everything she knew, but Yahaira also discovers that her father was a man of many secrets, and lived two separate lives.
The book is told from the point of view of both girls, alternating at regular intervals. I was so impressed with how their emotions felt so raw; how difficult it was for the pair of them to come to terms with what had happened and admit to themselves that their father was gone. Along the way, I think their different circumstances were juxtaposed extremely well.
We see that in particular when the girls become aware of each other and finally meet, which is both a special and fascinating moment in the story. Camino feels slightly resentful towards Yahaira for the life she has had, but they develop a connection through the things they share. It is very clever writing and the reactions of both characters were totally believable.
The only real problem I had was that Camino and Yahaira had very similar voices. If it were not for the different characters and settings around them, then it would have been difficult to tell them apart. I really empathised with both of them and although Camino was the more multi-layered of the two, Yahaira was equally interesting and easy to relate to.
Through a series of thoughtful lines and meaningful extracts, Acevedo accurately portrays the topic of grief and the sense of loss that both girls come to feel. I loved Yahaira’s relationship with her girlfriend Andrea and similarly how Camino finds comfort in helping others and spending time at the beach alone with her thoughts.
Camino’s storyline is made more compelling by the presence of the predatory El Cero, watching her every move whenever she went outside. That did often make me worried for her, but she is very spirited. Just like Yahaira, she is really well developed and is given a lot of backstory that enables the reader to experience an emotional response.
Ultimately, this is a story about how two girls thousands of miles apart who unknowingly share the same father adjust to the knowledge that their existence is not quite as simple as they believed. The fundamental elements of the plot are fairly easy to predict, yet the impact is felt when Camino and Yahaira are given all the details and have to confront them.
Overall, this was a powerful read that brings together two likeable characters and examines the interesting topics of loss and family secrets. Having part of the story set in the Dominican Republic added an effective extra dimension to the book which I really enjoyed, and there was rarely a dull moment to be had. Another fantastic piece of work from Elizabeth Acevedo!
A really good read. I would read anything by Elizabeth Acevedo, as with each of her three books she has demonstrated an excellence through writing both in standard prose and in verse.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5