At Puerto Plata Airport in the Dominican Republic, a teenage girl named Camino waits for her beloved father’s plane to land. After a three and a half hour flight from New York, Papi will be greeted by ‘…his favourite girl waiting at the airport.’ Papi, however, never arrives. His plane crashes into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving no survivors, and a devastated Camino discovers that maybe she wasn’t his ‘favourite girl’ after all. Maybe that accolade belongs to his hitherto secret daughter in New York. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo is a compelling exploration of family secrets, identity, and forgiveness.
Thousands of kilometres across the ocean, another young woman is buckling under the weight of bereavement and the powerlessness of being a child within an adult’s web of lies.
‘A truth you did not want can put a collar around your neck & lead you into the places where all your monsters live.’
Born and raised in New York, Yahaira is steeped in her Dominican heritage. Papi had bequeathed to her his language, culture, and now shockingly, a sister. Could there be a seed of hope within their loss? It’s time for Camino and Yahaira to meet.
Acevedo is a Dominican-American writer, whose verse novels possess both lyrical and political power. She writes searingly of the differences in the sisters’ backgrounds. Yahaira leads a comfortable, well-fed, urban American existence. She knows nothing of poverty. In Camino’s ‘dirt-packed, water-backed, third-world smacked’ barrio, existence is more tenuous. Without her father’s financial assistance, she will flounder, her dreams of becoming a doctor set to come to nothing.
As the sisters take tentative steps towards forging a connection and forgiving their errant father, we see the glimmering possibilities of a re-imagined future.
The rhythm of Acevedo’s verse is brilliantly served by the audio version of this novel. Narrated by the author herself, it’s a vibrant and absorbing treat.
If you liked this, see also The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo is published by Hot Key Books, 432 pages.