Clap When You Land explores grief and self-discovery with nuance and raw emotion.
“I deserve to know and be known.”
I know the saying, but I still love it when a cover tells me exactly what’s in a book. The beautiful art gracing Clap When You Land (especially the US hardcover) lays out the premise: Two teenage girls, mirrors in some ways and foils in others, are brought into contact from different worlds, stitched together by a plane.
The girls are fictional, but the plane is not. The story begins with the very real crash of American Airlines flight 587, which came on the heels of 9/11. Despite being one of the worst aviation disasters in US history, the event was largely forgotten by American media– but not the Dominican-American community, which suffered an enormous loss.
Unlike another 2020 plane crash novel, Dear Edward, Clap When You Land doesn’t spend time on the nuts and bolts of the human and mechanical errors that led to the crash. It keeps a laser-tight focus on the dual protagonists as they are struck with sudden grief and revelations that shake their worldview.
If the watch-word of Young Adult fiction is “discovery,” especially self-discovery, then Clap When You Land succeeds as a work for teens. Each story beat brought me back to the girls’ struggle to understand their rapid discoveries about their father, each other, and themselves.
Like Acevedo’s two previous YA works, Clap When You Land is written in her signature free-flowing, impactful verse. I’d strongly recommend reading this one via audiobook, which is partially read by the author. Acevedo comes to verse by way of slam poetry, and I’d consider her performance of the words almost essential for experiencing the book.
Acevedo’s verse style works very well for drawing readers into the emotional environment. I will say, though, that it doesn’t serve the story well in distinguishing characters. Looking at a page of text, it would be difficult to tell Yahaira’s voice from Camino’s, or even from the main characters of Acevedo’s previous books.