Book Review – Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo: A Poignant Tale of Grief and Discovery

Imagine living your whole life with a sense of knowing, like a certainty about your place in the world, only to have that foundation shattered in a moment of unexpected tragedy. “Clap When You Land” by Elizabeth Acevedo does just that, weaving a story that hits you in the gut and lingers long after you’ve turned the last page.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when reading this book. Novels-in-verse can be hit or miss, but Acevedo’s writing sings, each line a melodic testament to the power of poetry in storytelling. The narrative alternates between Camino, who lives in the Dominican Republic, and Yahaira, based in New York City. They are sisters who don’t know of each other’s existence until their father dies in a plane crash, a secret revealed in the wake of his passing. The discovery of each other’s existence is a bittersweet revelation, marred by grief but also a beacon of connection in their darkest moments.

Camino Rios dreams of escaping her impoverished life through education, her father’s annual visits from New York City a lifeline to her aspirations. Yahaira Rios, on the other hand, struggles with her own identity in the bustling metropolis of New York, her life upended by the sudden loss of the man she thought she knew. The sisters’ lives are intricately detailed, their emotions raw and palpable. Acevedo masterfully navigates their individual and shared grief, painting a vivid picture of loss and the bonds that transcend borders.

The prose is rhythmic, each word carefully chosen, each line a verse that carries the weight of their stories. One of the most striking aspects of the book is how it portrays grief—not as a linear process, but as a series of waves, each one different from the last. There’s a passage where Yahaira reflects on how the news of her father’s death didn’t just break her heart but shattered it, pieces flying in every direction, impossible to gather all at once. This resonated deeply, capturing the chaotic, fragmented nature of mourning.

Acevedo doesn’t shy away from the complexities of family dynamics either. The father, a man with two lives, loved differently by each daughter, becomes a symbol of the imperfect love that binds families together. His death forces Camino and Yahaira to grapple with their understanding of who he was and who they are. The sisters’ eventual meeting is both cathartic and awkward, filled with tentative steps towards understanding and acceptance.

The cultural backdrop adds another layer to the story. The Dominican Republic is portrayed with such authenticity, from the vibrant streets to the ever-present struggle against poverty and corruption. Similarly, the depiction of New York City isn’t romanticized; it’s a city of contrasts, where dreams and harsh realities coexist. The dual settings serve to highlight the differences in the sisters’ lives while also underscoring their shared humanity.

You cannot really talk about “Clap When You Land” without mentioning the powerful female voices that drive the narrative. Both Camino and Yahaira are strong, complex characters, their resilience and vulnerability portrayed with equal care. Their journey from strangers to sisters is a testament to the strength found in connection, even in the most unexpected places.

Reading this book was an experience. Acevedo’s skillful blend of poetry and narrative creates a tapestry of emotions, each thread contributing to a story that is both deeply personal and universally relatable. “Clap When You Land” is more than just a story about loss; it’s a celebration of the ties that bind us, the secrets that shape us, and the resilience that defines us.

If you’re looking for a book that challenges your emotions and stays with you long after you’ve finished reading, “Clap When You Land” should be on your reading bucket list. It’s a reminder that even in our darkest moments, there is light to be found in unexpected connections and the strength of the human spirit.

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