Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (2020)

 

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This young author is on fire. Her imagery, her rhythm, her word choice stops me in my tracks. She’s that good. In her third novel in less than three years (The Poet X and With the Fire on High), she returns to verse writing and to her family’s Dominican roots and to historical truth as she writes about a plane of mostly Dominican residents crashing on its way to DR (which happened in Nov, 2001). Her story revolves around–and is narrated by–two sisters, one living in DR and one in New York City. They share a father, a man whose homeland and extended family is in DR, but whose “other” land is New York. Neither daughter knows of this other family until their father dies in the plane crash, and we watch the grief unfold from each of their perspectives, from each of their cultures, from each of their locations. And soon after the loss comes the discovery of the secret that’s been withheld from both girls, now on the cusp of 17 and looking toward their futures.

Camino live in DR, raised by her aunt Tia, a midwife and healer, ever since Camino’s mother died when she was five. Her father visits every summer, and with his business in the US, he’s able to provide Camino with private school education and a hope for college in the US as well as food and a house well beyond others in the neighborhood (running water, a TV, and wifi), but it’s still a life of poverty. Yahaira lives a middle class life in a diverse Manhattan neighborhood near Columbia University. Her well furnished apartment, stylish clothes, and a father who lives with her 9 months of the year are a world away from Camino’s. Through their loss and discovery, we find that families can be messy but still committed to love (this messiness of dual families is not unique to these fictional girls; as Acevedo discovered in her research of the place crash, many NY families have second families in DR).

An example of Acevedo’s powerful imagery (/ indicates a line break in her poetry). When Camino is at the airport with other Dominicans waiting for news about the flight, Acevedo writes, “An airline employee / & two security guards / approach the crowd / like gutter cats / used to being kicked. / & as soon as the employee / utters the word accident / the linoleum opens / a gnashing jaw / a bottomless belly, / I am swallowed / by this shark-toothed truth.” This kind of writing occurs over and over. While this is a Young Adult book, anyone would savor the writing and the story. And aspiring writers can learn so much from this talented author and poet.

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