Clap Your Hands When You Land provides moving portrait of family pulling together in times of crisis

“Papi was a man split in two, / playing a game against himself. // But the problem with that / is that in order to win, you also always lose.”

Clap When You Land Is a 2020 YA realistic fiction told in verse by Elizabeth Acevedo about two half-sisters separated by secrets and brought together by grief. Camino lives in Sousa, Dominican Republic, and every summer her Papi, who supports them from New York City, visits for her birthday. But this summer his plane crashed while crossing the Atlantic, killing all the passengers, and in New York City Yaharia wrestles with her picture of her father after the fateful morning when she learned her Papi’s plane crashed before reaching his first home in the Dominican Republic. They struggle with their grief alone until they find the only other person who understands what they are going through, each other.

Clap When You Land is inspired by the crash of flight AA587. It departed from New York City filled with Dominicans excited to see their homeland of the Dominican Republic. It crashed almost immediately after exiting JFK Airport, killing 265 passengers, crew members and people on the ground. It was the second deadliest crash in American Aviation history. It happened two months after 9/11 and got overshadowed by it, but it sent shock waves through the New York Dominican community and affects families to this day. Acevedo started researching the stories of victims of the crash and found stories about people living double lives. “My fiction is often centered around intergenerational stories and the realization that parental figures can be deeply flawed; with this story, I made that the center that holds the rest of the narrative. I see young adult literature as an opportunity to show young people scenarios that might be familiar, but also ones that are rarely spoken of; I can pull certain taboos into the light. And while conversations about secret families, or siblings you don’t know exist, might be something you hear through the grapevine, I wanted to focus the story on the questions of blood and kin that aren’t often explored in an accessible way for teens,” Acevedo said in a Shondaland interview.

The book is told in verse, meaning that the whole story is poetry, but despite that, it’s an easy read for people who aren’t big fans of poetry and it makes the book quicker to read. This book is great for students who want to read more this year but are busy with school work and outside-of-school activities. The book’s handling of family dynamics and parental expectations touches readers no matter what their family looks like, and it has representation for Afro-Latinas, who rarely get represented in literature, by an Afro-Latina author, making Afro-Latino readers feel more seen and making non-Afro-Latinos expand their worldview. 

The book does talk about sexual assault and sex trafficking. Both sisters go through some instances of sexual assault, but what Camino goes through has a larger presence in the story. Their Papi was paying off a man named El Cero so he wouldn’t sex-traffic Camino. Without Papi’s money, Camino has to figure out how to avoid him herself. Camino is often blamed for bringing attention to herself. This book does write about sexual assault in a way that can deeply resonate with me as a victim of sexual assault. It sends a message that you aren’t alone and empowers victims instead of using sexual assault as a plot device for angst. It also brings awareness to the violence Black girls go through before they are adults. If you are someone who has trauma triggers related to sexual violence, I would suggest putting your health first and pick a different book.

Overall, this book is a beautiful examination of what family means. I had the honor of reading it for the 2023 Battle of The Books competition, but anyone can get a copy from the high school library in the realistic fiction section, and if you enjoyed this book you may enjoy The Poet X and With The Fire On High by the same author.

“The patron saint of the ocean is known for containing many parts of herself: she is a nurturer, but she is also a ferocious defender. & so I remember that to walk this world you must be kind but also fierce.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.