CLAP WHEN YOU LAND by ELIZABETH ACEVEDO
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
One of my secret book-related shames is that I’ve never read a book by Elizabeth Acevedo until now. Acevedo, beloved in the YA world, is the author of such books as The Poet X and With the Fire on High. These books have been the recipients of numerous awards and have received constant praise since their publication. Having finally read Clap When You Land, I can safely say that all of those awards went to a good place. Elizabeth Acevedo is virtuoso with words. CWYL is no exception.
Written in gorgeous verse, CWYL is the kind of novel you read when you want to explore two characters as opposed to being swept away by a frenetic plot. The book follows two seventeen-year-olds, Camino Rios and Yahaira Rios, as they navigate the sea of grief that they find themselves in after their father’s death. His death is bad enough, but when Camino and Yahaira figure out they’re related and that their beloved father had been living a double life, they realize the world isn’t as big as it seems.
Told in dual perspectives from Camino in the Dominican Republic and Yahaira in New York City, CWYL is foremost a story about grief. It asks the question: What are you supposed to do when your entire life gets turned upside down? How are you supposed to go on, knowing your father had another life, another family, in an entirely different country? While the novel also explores the complexities of sisterhood, I found myself gravitating more to the discussions around grief. Grief is complex and it’s hard to understand. Camino has a much different reaction to her father’s death than Yahaira does. Having lost my own father a few years ago, I related deeply to Camino’s struggles with trying to grief while also trying to stay strong for the rest of your family. Out of the two points of view, Camino’s was definitely my favorite. I enjoyed reading about her life in the Dominican Republic and I especially related to the complexity of her grief.
CWYL is a beautifully written book. Novels in verse are hard to come by these days, and they’re even harder to write effectively, but Acevedo more than succeeds. Her prose is rich with feeling and the fact that this novel was written in verse only adds to to the emotional resonance Acevedo is trying to build. However, verse is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it can feel too spare. Too vague to get the story across. I did not feel that was the case here. Acevedo is a master at what she does and I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future.
If I did have one gripe, it would be that the Camino and Yahaira’s relationship wasn’t as fleshed out as I wanted it to be. They only really start interacting with one another 60% of the way through the book.
Other than that, Clap When You Land is a gem. And you can pick it up from the Oreana library today!