Blog, Book Reviews

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

On November 12, 2001 – 61 days after 9/11 – American Airlines flight 587 going from New York City to Las Americas Airport in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic crashed in Queens. 251 passengers and nine crew members died along with five people on the ground. Because of when it happened people thought it was a terrorist attack. The Empire State Building, United Nations, and other buildings were evacuated. It quickly faded away in the news cycle and the investigation determined that it was a mechanical issue. A memorial was built in Rockaway Park in Queens and life moved on.

But what about the people on the plane? What happened to those families? In Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo takes a magnifying glass on the Rios family and examines what happens after the news cycle ends and you’re left with each other. Yano Rios dies on American Airlines flight 1112 and the story follows Camino and Yahaira Rios, half-sisters who don’t know about the others’ existence until now. Camino lives in Sosua, Dominican Republic and Yahaira lives in New York City. How do they move forward? What changes for each of them? How do they navigate this new world? What do you do with the ripples that a life leaves, even when it’s sunk to the bottom of the ocean?

Would I recommend this book?

Yes. I would recommend this for anyone 14 or older.

What does this book do well?

The writing style is like…freestyle verse? I thought it would be distracting at first (…I’m not great with poetry y’all), but now? I can’t imagine reading it any other way. Simple prose wouldn’t be enough to tell this story. The language, the references, the lyricism! It is glorious.

Do you know, reader, what a joy it is to read something and understand all of the references? To hear yourself in the music of the story and you’re completely able to sing along and dance to the beat? It is not something that happens often for me and it was glorious.  

The relationships between women and men in this book are also well-written and full of female characters with agency. Camino and Yahaira make their own decisions because they’re human beings and not tropes of what “emotional teens” are like. Absolutely none of the characters are written as caricatures of their gender or culture. My father and aunts and uncles are represented in this book with all of their foibles and nuances. They are not solely good or bad, they’re just people with complex motivations. I even see my stepmom in this book which is an interesting sight.

What “areas of opportunity” does this book have?

The narrative switches between Yahaira and Camino. It could be because I was reading on my e-reader, but there are times where I had to go back and figure out who was talking. That’s literally my only quibble.

Great Quotes

“I was my mother’s gift to the sun of her life.

She revolved around my father, the classic distant satellite

  that came close enough to eclipse her once a year.”

My mother definitely never revolved around my father in my memories – but she did only see him once a year during the very brief time that they were married. This line sat with me for a couple of days after I read it. What was she like when he was around? Was this how they were? Parents man, it’s hard when they’re actual people.

“Can you be from a place

you have never been?”

As someone who is part of the diaspora, let me tell you that this is a question that I’ve asked myself a lot. I grew up going to Dominican Republic, got married there, have family there, etc. But I’m not from there; but I’m also not fully American.

“She doesn’t look like an American-apple-

  pie mother.

She looks like a tres golpes of a mother.”

If someone could please put this on my tombstone, that’d be great. Besides being the national breakfast of the Dominican Republic, tres golpes is also a phenomenal meal when you’re hungover AF.

Natalia Santana is a compliance professional by day, and an activist, student and parent...also by day. Interested in the intersection of activism and education, her joy in life is taking complicated concepts and distilling them into easy to understand Twitter rants. Favorite genres: science fiction, fantasy, and non-fiction books.


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