offers her hand to be kissed,
& can form it into a fist
while smiling the whole damn time.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo piqued my interest because it was written by a National Book Award winner, and it was on Amazon’s monthly list of best YA fiction.
Oh, and it was written in verse. That sounded kinda bonkers to me, and I wanted to check it out.
So far, it’s my favorite book that has been released in 2020.
What is it about?
Two half-sisters cope with the death of their father.
What is this book like?
It’s a novel written in verse, with each chapter alternating first-person point-of-view between the sisters.
It’s marketed as a teen or YA book. I don’t know why (but then again, I never know why any book gets put into that category). I imagine it has something to do with a publishing company believing that marketing strategy will result in bigger sales. Anyway, there’s some adult themes and language in this novel, so if you’re shopping for a young person, you should probably read it first to make sure they’re up for it.
What’s awesome about this book?
I’ve read more than 200 books over the past several years. The stories blur and get hazy in my memory. I don’t remember every little plot point and McGuffin those books may have had. Three things stick with me: characters, settings, and emotions (i.e. how it made me feel). I love the characters, the settings, and the emotions from this book!
The characters in this novel feel like real people. I can picture the ambitious girl in the Dominican Republic. I can feel the anger in the girl in New York. They are fully-fleshed out, believable human beings, with clear, distinct personalities.
The settings — the Dominican Republic and New York City — feel alive and vibrant. In this book, they aren’t just names on a map, but provide integral context and are a vital piece of the story. This would be a different book if Vancouver had been used instead of New York. Obviously, I can’t claim to know what it is like to live in either place just from reading one book, but the author’s descriptions are so vibrant and powerful, so full of love but also a kind of lived-in realism, that I felt like I was there with the characters, in THIS version of New York, of THIS Dominican Republic. I’m not qualified to say whether those descriptions match up with reality, and I don’t care if they do. These settings FEEL true for this story, and the characters’ behavior in this environment just works.
I cared about the characters. I grieved when they grieved, I empathized with them, shouted (mostly in my head but sometimes out loud) “no don’t do that!” when I thought they were making a poor decision, I celebrated with them when good things happened. The author did not twist the plot all around in an effort to manipulate my emotions. Everything felt natural, real, and true to the characters.
I also felt intellectually engaged. Clap When You Land is fundamentally an exploration of grief. Since it’s written in verse, each line is layered in meaning, through rhythm and precise word choices. It encourages multiple readings and deeper analysis than a usual novel. It might be THE perfect book club novel.
What sucks about this book?
The only minor quibble I have is that the end feels a little abrupt. Also, a book written in verse might not be everybody’s cup of tea (but I loved it).
TLDR: Read this book if you:
- like pretty language in your books
- enjoy good stories
- appreciate creativity in storytelling
TLDR: Avoid this book if you:
- are racist
- really don’t like poetry
- are homophobic
Another book by the same author, The Poet X, won a National Book Award. Maybe check it out. I bought it, and hopefully I’ll get around to reading it one of these days.
My Rating: 5 Stars