Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

There is truly some value in representation in literature (and everything else) because the amount of sensory detail shared in Acevedo’s words takes me right back to my childhood. Latinx culture is so lovingly depicted in this book and I am delighted to share how true I found it to be, how effortlessly the author embraced me with our shared heritage. Here’s an example, given in a single line among hundreds of others, perhaps easily overlooked- except I know it. I recognize it- and when I read it, I heard it in my mom’s sing-song voice:

Tia was the other

mother of my heart.

The one who would sing to me

when I fell & bumped my butt:

Sana, sana, culito de rana.

Pg. 104

I don’t even know how many times my mom sang Sana, Sana to me.

Not to mention the title, Clap When You Land*:

“They don’t do that as much anymore. This must be a plane

of Dominicans returning home;

when you touch down on this soil, you must clap when you land.

Para dar gracias a dios. Regrezamos.” & I smiled back.

Pg. 323

I admit, I don’t typically read books in verse format but at this point- after having read With the Fire on High and Poet X, I will read a sugar packet if Elizabeth Acevedo had a hand in the packaging. But don’t get me wrong, the format of this book is in no way a hindrance- if anything, it’s so free-flowing that the format feels natural, like a heartbeat- and I would encourage anyone unsure of reading this format to pick up this book and give it a shot because it is so rich and heartfelt and wonderful!

Clap When You Land follows two half-sisters who each didn’t realize the other existed until disaster strikes, they lose their dad, and his secrets are exposed. 

Yahaira lives in New York, and she and her mother are reeling from the shock of losing her father. Not only that, but Yahaira learned his secret about a second wife, and planned to confront him about it when he returned from his trip- which will now never happen. The secret and the betrayal she feels is tearing at her, but she doesn’t know if her mom knows, too. Swirling with pain and anger, Yahaira relies on her best friend, who is also her partner in what is the sweetest young love relationship I have seen in quite a while- and it’s not even a central aspect of the story!

Camino, meanwhile, lives in the Dominican Republic with her Tia, their local healer, and dreams of going to medical school in the U.S. but she’ll be lucky if she gets to finish high school after her father, who was paying for her schooling, passes away. Not only is she emotionally devastated, but she is terrified that her life has changed for the worst in every possible way.

I loved so much about this book – even how the sisters are automatically at odds with each other, for many reasons. First, Yahaira sees Camino as the daughter of “The Other Woman”, and Camino sees Yahaira as a spoiled American with more money and opportunity than she could dream of. They each thought their relationships with their dad was special, and bonded with him in completely different ways. They each saw opposing sides of him, right down to how he dressed, forcing them to question if they really knew their dad at all. 

I also loved the discussion around racial dynamics in this book, because this is something families should talk about (trust me, when you look more like one parent than the other, questions get asked, and you don’t want your kids taken by surprise). Yahaira takes after their father, who is very brown-skinned. Her mother is very fair, and Yahaira wonders if her mother laments that she doesn’t look more like her. Her mother’s response brought actual tears to my eyes, and made me laugh, and felt so real.

“[…]What do you mean, looked more like me?

You look just like me. Your heart-shaped mouth,

your fat big toe, your ears like seashells;

your eyes same brown as mine.

You got your father’s coloring, kinked hair,

& stubbornness, but the rest of you is all me.

& anyone that can’t see that que se vayan al carajo.”

PG. 281

This touched me, and I couldn’t help it. For context, I should share that I look like my mom, Tica all the way. My dad is very fair, blue eyes, “all-American”. And so I asked him the same question. And what did he say? He scoffed! “You look just like me. You have my jaw, my eyebrows. Your mom says you’re stubborn like me.”

I did not, I repeat- did not, have him read a teleprompter. These were his own thoughts, and made me tear up all over again! Parents are parents and parents, and I am very grateful for the ones I have.

He did amend, though: “It’s a good thing you look more like your mom though, she’s a beautiful woman.”


While full of so many beautiful moments, the tragedy of Clap When You Land is simply all the truths that were withheld. One would think (fairly) that the tragedy is the girls losing their father, but it really is how truth being withheld can do so much harm. People cannot live forever, but what we can do is treat our time as precious, is treat our loved ones as precious, and even when it gets tough- especially when it gets tough- embrace the ones you love, as the amazing, brave, resilient women in this story do.

Spoiler (highlight the space below to view):

As it turns out, Yahaira’s mother and Camino’s Tia know about each other, and know about the double-life led by the girls’ father, and they resent each other for his secrecy. But when it comes down to it, they do not hesitate for one single breath to fight for the safety of their family- and that is what they realize that they are- family. 

[…]& we are here: Tia like a bishop,

slashing her long machete. Mami, the knight with rims. My body

in front of my sister’s body: queens.

pg. 388

While the girls’ father put them unwillingly in this nasty situation, he has nothing to do with the bond the girls share, with the love they grow for one another. His secrets and lies, while at first harmful, are their triumphs, and I loved seeing women take what is really a rather sh*tty situation and turn it into something fiercely beautiful, and full of hope.

And simply because I could go on about this book forever, but probably should tone it down a little- here are some other themes explored in this book that I adored:

  • The impact of tourism on the locals and their livelihood
  • Where Belief meets Science in healing/medicine and culture
  • Random acts of kindness from strangers
  • Moments captured with sensory detail (music, taste, scent)
  • Living in two worlds, and always leaving family behind

Honestly, I could go ON.

Elizabeth Acevedo has a gift for taking tangible moments in time and putting them on paper. I’ve experienced this moment so many times. Every time, it feels the same- deep, raw, broken, infinitely painful, but hopeful:

I blow her a kiss. […]

whisper blessings under my breath,

divide a piece of God

from my heart

for her to carry.

pg. 415

I know exactly what that moment feels like, hopeful that you’ll see them again and have your heart intact once more.

If you’d like to read an immersive, heartfelt story about a snapshot in time in these women’s lives, read this book. I dare you to not clap at the end in thanks.

*Author’s note: This is true, by the way. When I visit my Costa Rican family, you always clap when you land, and I hope you do, too. Probably because you’re thinking of all the mountains you narrowly avoided, but still. Clap when you land. Clap because you are home. Regrezamos.

Published by francinewonders

Hi! My name is Francine and I spend a lot of time wandering about while wondering about stuff. I like to talk about cats, books, travel, and all things w@nderful. Follow me on Instagram: @francinewonders

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