Book Reviews

Book Review: Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo

Do you clap when you land?

In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

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. 

Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own?

Elizabeth Acevedo

Book Review: Clap When You Land

This novel explains what it means to be Dominican from different perspectives. Camino is a young girl living in Puerto Plata with her aunt, living out of what her father sends them from New York. A reality for a huge amount of Dominicans.

It’s very common for working class families in this country, to have someone abroad that sends them money using Western Union for instance. It basically means, that someone makes the sacrifice to live as an expat so that the family can live out of their American income.

On the other hand, we have Yahaira, a girl only 2 months younger than Camino and a Dominican expat in New York.

Clap When You Land is based roughly on American Airlines flight 587. Shortly after take off, this plane crashed into a residential area of Belle Harbor, New York. This was a regular flight from JKF to Santo Domingo. On November 12, 2001 the Dominican community in New York was struck with tragedy, since all 260 passengers lost their lives.

During her research, Elizabeth Acevedo, realized that some of the men in this flight, had multiple families. After this plane crash, said families were forced to acknowledge the existence of one another.

So, this is practically what happens to Camino and Yahaira. They were sisters without knowing about each other. Their father was aboard said flight and died on his way to make his yearly visit to Camino. Thus, they were sharing their precious Papi.

After he dies, their lives are completely changed. However, we see how their circumstances are not the same at all. Yahaira has her mother, who was their father’s “official wife” . Camino lost hers when she was about 10 years old. This meant that Yahaira had a lot more security, since the airline even gave them money. On top of that, she lived in a land of opportunities where you don’t precisely need money to cover basic needs. They’re a right you gain with your citizenship.

In Dominican Republic, we live another reality and we can see that through Camino. Public education is a big no no if you can help it. My country is swamped with private schools, since the public system is horrible. They’re not as expensive as US private schools, but it’s still money that parents have to struggle to get.

Camino was lucky enough to be able to assist a private international school in Puerto Plata, which of course, was a great opportunity. Although, she could only afford this with her father’s money. So imagine, knowing that your hero has died in a plane crash, but also that your whole life has changed in a matter of seconds and not how you imagined. You see, Camino had dreams like any other smart girl.

She wanted to assist Columbia and become a doctor eventually. Through Tia she got to know the power of the spirits and the work of a healer, but she wanted to take it to another level.

Eventually both sisters learn of each other and decide to meet.

There are other characters in the story that portray so many realities. El Cero for instance, represents child prostitution, which is a great problem here in DR. We have men recruiting minors in order to please the numerous corrupted tourists that arrive each year to our multiple beach destinations.

Tia Solana, was one of my favorites. She represents all our superstitions, like never passing the salt, knocking on wood, that kind of thing. The power of spirits. But most importantly, you can see the kindness of heart of this woman. Dominicans are very empathic human beings, when you’re sick, you have to prepare to have numerous visitors cause they’re gonna be hovering all over you. Solana visits all her “patients” almost for free, gaining a lot of respect in her community.

Another special character is Zoila, Yahaira’s mom. At first you might think her bitter and resentful. Hurt by betrayal like any woman would be, in her shoes. Her husband had simultaneously married another woman, who was her friend, and had a child with her. How would you feel? I personally understood her immediate feelings, but at the end you can see the greatness in her. She puts all that resentment away in order to help an orphaned girl.

I honestly can continue to describe this novel, but I’m not I’ll be able to project its greatness. If you’re interested in Dominican culture, this is the book for you. You can totally see this even from the selected title, Clap When You Land. Dominicans are particular famous for clapping when we land. Celebrating the fact that you got to another destination unharmed.

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