Clap When You Land

by Elizabeth Acevedo

I bought this book having forgotten that it was written in free verse. I’m not a poetry afficionado– in fact I find it difficult to really appreciate poetry unless someone teaches me about it or I’m particularly attracted to the content/message.

So I began reading with a bit of interference/prejudice. But Camino Rios (living in a small village adjacent to a resort catering to foreigners in the Dominican Republic) drew me into her world from the first page as she accompanies her Tia, a curandera, to the house of a sick woman.

The prose gives the story a heavily emotional, dreamy undertone. There is an aesthetic flavor to this very modern book I get when reading Allenda or Garcia Marquez’s more historical stories. Once I got past the first dozen or so pages, the verse form didn’t distract me other than it gave Camino and her USA based sister, Yahaira, a too-similar voice.

Both girls at the start of the book are learning of the traumatic fall of American Airlines Flight 587–a historical event that impacted the New York DR population greatly– and the probable death of their father.

They’re also about to learn of each other’s existence. Both girls love their Papi, and experience feelings of grief, anger, confusion, etc over his dual life. Camino is also dealing with a huge amount of anger related to the imagined life of her USA half-sister when Camino herself now is being stalked by the local pimp and her entire future teeters on the edge of poverty without Papi’s USA dollars to pay for her education.

Despite my aversion to prose-form book, this one get a 5 from me for two reasons: because of the complicated emotional tangle evoked in my own heart by these two girls and also because the book delves into some important messy issues about how nuances of skin color in different communities are perceived, class differences, poverty and privilege. Definitely one high school folks should be reading to gain a richer perspective on what it means to live in a privileged country such as the USA.