Those who remember all too well the tragedy of September 11, 2001, may not recall another tragedy that occurred in its immediate aftermath. On November 12, American Airlines Flight 587, en route from New York City to the Dominican Republic, crashed in Queens, killing all 260 people on board, the vast majority of whom were of Dominican descent.
The tragic stories of the lives lost on board Flight 587 and those of the families left behind, as well as author Elizabeth Acevedo’s own memories of trips to visit relatives in the Dominican Republic, inspired Clap When You Land. The book sees Acevedo return triumphantly to the novel-in-verse format of her multiple award-winning debut, The Poet X.
Sixteen-year-old Camino Rios is meeting her father at the Santo Domingo airport. He lives in the United States much of the year but spends summers in the Dominican Republic. Camino, whose mother died a decade earlier, dreams of moving to New York City for college and then medical school. She can’t wait to finally be closer to her beloved father.
Thousands of miles away in New York City, Yahaira Rios has just said goodbye to her father, who supports her love of competitive chess and always encourages her to follow her dreams. Yahaira misses him when he returns to the Dominican Republic each summer, but this year, her feelings are more complicated. She’s recently learned a secret about her father that she hasn’t admitted to anyone.
Both Yahaira and Camino are on the cusp of a terrible loss—and of a profound discovery about their families and the surprising, sometimes uneasy connection between them.
Clap When You Land explores themes of heredity, class and privilege, as well as the complex, conflicted emotions the girls feel toward their birthplaces and homes. Acevedo handles all of these themes with a lyricism and sensitivity to language that make Camino’s and Yahaira’s struggles and joys, both individual and shared, all the more powerful.
Readers unaccustomed to verse narratives will quickly settle into the book’s generally short stanzas and conversational tone. Passages that are more deliberately poetic in style, such as the description of a burial that uses short lines to make the text resemble a deep hole, or a scene of violence in which the verses—like the narrator’s thoughts—grow increasingly fragmented, encourage readers to read slowly and even pause in order to fully experience both the characters’ powerful emotions and Acevedo’s tremendous skill at conveying them and transforming them into art.
Clap When You Land gets its title from the Dominican tradition of applauding when a plane touches down safely at its destination. By the story’s end, readers will be ready to give Yahaira, Camino and Acevedo herself a standing ovation.