*Trigger Warning: Loss of a parent, sexual assault*
‘Clap When You Land’ by Elizabeth Acevedo is a YA contemporary novel written in verse. The book currently has an average rating of 4.43 stars on Goodreads, and I have rated it 3 stars.
The story follows Camino Rios, living in the Dominican Republic, and Yahaira Rios, living in New York City. Camino’s father lives with her in the Dominican Republic during it’s summers, but on the day his plane is meant to land and Camino goes to the airport to greet him, she only finds crying and grieving people. Whilst in New York, Yahaira is called to the principle’s office to be told that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash. Separated by distance but also their shared father’s secrets, the two girls are left to battle with their grief and their changed lives, but when all hope seems lost forever, they might just find each other.
“Maybe anger is like a river. Maybe it crumbles everything around it. Maybe it hides so many skeletons beneath the rolling surface.”
When this ebook became available at my library I was more excited than I think was reasonable, as I live in the middle of the English countryside so we never get any new releases at my library. However, this book did not live up to the my expectations. Whilst nothing in this book was terrible, not a lot stood out to me as excellent either, and it’s a shame as this was my first experience reading a book by Acevedo.
The book largely focuses on the subject of grief, and I think it’s handled fairly well. We see and feel everything the two main characters feel following their mutual father’s death, and the fear and anxiety that comes with the loss of a parental figure. Acevedo has a full range of emotive language at her disposal for this part of the book and uses it unflinchingly when covering grief. I also thought the confusion surrounding how both felt about their father after the revelation that he had another family was interesting, neither seemed to fully to reconcile their view of their father with this truth.
Whilst I have never read Acevedo before I knew before starting this she is famous for her verse, and I can clearly see why after reading ‘Clap When You Land’. The verse is clearly the highlight of the entire book. The author has a brilliant grasp of language and clearly knows how to turn her writing emotive, and it was very easy to read due to this. It is the one shining factor in this book that will mean I will pick up another book by Acevedo in the future.
The main issue I took with the book was that neither Camino and Yahairo felt distinct, they were basically the same character. I understand if they were to share similarities as long-lost and separated sisters, but they were the same person. I often found it hard to tell them apart or whose perspective I was reading from, as there was very little separating them as people other than their hobbies, which for a dual perspective book is not enough.
As well as this, due to a lack of distinction between the two main characters, it left Acevedo unable to fully explore the nature of the sisters’ relationship, which should have been the key focus of the book. Whilst it is explored briefly and not for a very long period of time towards the end of the book, it often felt very surface level and I think if the characters were further separated as people we could have explored their reconciliation and the complexities of their sisterhood further.
This book also suffered from problems surrounding it’s plot and pacing. The concept for this book is extremely intriguing, however it is not executed as well as I think it could have been, as Camino and Yahaira don’t meet until quite far into the story it means not a lot happens for a large portion of the book, and provides the author with very little time to explore any nuanced topics surrounding them meeting. This lack of plot for a lot of the book also means the pacing is quite slow and can drag at places, I found myself desperately wishing for something to happen at points.
I think it’s also noteworthy to mention that a focus of the plot that wasn’t dealt with very well was sexual assault, but also sexual harassment and I suppose to a larger degree rape culture. It’s mentioned that both sisters have had problems surrounding men touching them without their consent, Yahaira experiences this on a train in New York outside of the main narrative, while Camino is sexually assaulted in the narrative of the book. Camino’s sexual assault isn’t handled extremely well, and whilst I would argue she is protected well after it happens and there is no victim blaming, the consequences and the lead up to this event aren’t explored in enough depth.
Acevedo follows a worrying trend that seems to have been set out in YA literature recently, where when a young character is in danger, particularly the kind where they can be victims of some form of non-consensual touching, there is a rhetoric that appears of the character not telling parental figures in their life in fear of worrying them. This is a dangerous rhetoric to showcase without critiquing in YA books, as teenagers do read YA literature and can find themselves in these situations. Also, there was a lack of exploration of how to handle sexual assault after it happens, and whilst it was nice to see adult women protecting Camino, there was a lack of clear indication of the options one could face in seeking justice or help after such an event. Whilst none of this was bad enough for me to put the book down in anger or frustration, I do think it deserves to be noted that this should have been handled better.
Overall this was a book that disappointed me. Whilst I think Acevedo has beautiful writing skills and the writing did make me emotional at times, the failure to separate the two main characters and have a clear, distinct and entertaining plot in the book meant this was ultimately a failure.