“Clap When You Land” by Elizabeth Acevedo, published in 2020, is a young adult novel.
It explores themes of sisterhood, loss, and identity against the backdrop of a tragic event – the crash of Flight AA587 en route to Santo Domingo. The story commemorates this moment in history, particularly its impact on the Dominican community both in America and overseas.
The narrative unfolds through the eyes of two 16-year-old girls, Yahaira and Camino Rios, who are half-sisters but unaware of each other’s existence. They share the same father, Papi, whose death in the plane crash becomes the catalyst for their paths to intertwine.
Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt, Tía Solana. She eagerly awaits her father’s annual summer visit, but this year, she is met with the devastating news of his death in a plane crash.
Camino, already orphaned by her mother’s death from dengue fever years earlier, now grapples with the loss of her father, who was her sole provider and her hope for a future in medicine.
Meanwhile, in New York, Yahaira receives the same heartbreaking news at her school.
She returns home to find her mother, Zoila, overwhelmed with grief. Yahaira, who once was a competitive chess player and currently navigates her relationship with her girlfriend Dre, now finds herself taking on the role of the family’s pillar of strength.
As both sisters mourn, their challenges mount. Camino faces the threat of a local pimp, El Cero, who starts harassing her on the beach, a place where she once found solace with her father.
Without Papi’s protection and financial support, Camino’s dreams of attending Columbia University and becoming an obstetrician seem more distant than ever.
In New York, Yahaira grapples with a family secret she uncovered a year prior: her father’s double life.
She discovered Papi’s marriage license to another woman in the Dominican Republic, which led to a rift in their relationship. This revelation, coupled with a traumatic incident on the subway, caused Yahaira to withdraw from chess and distance herself from her father.
The sisters’ lives further intertwine when an airline representative informs Yahaira’s family about a significant payout from the airline to prevent lawsuits.
This news reaches Camino in the Dominican Republic, revealing to her the existence of a sister in New York. Shocked but hopeful, Camino sees a glimmer of hope for her future.
The story reaches a turning point when Yahaira, driven by a mix of curiosity and a desire for connection, secretly arranges to meet Camino in the Dominican Republic.
Their first encounter is a blend of awkwardness and revelation, as they navigate the complexities of their newfound relationship and the shared grief for a father they both loved and resented.
In a climactic sequence, Camino finds herself in danger on the beach, and it’s Yahaira who comes to her rescue.
This act solidifies their bond as sisters and sets them on a path to overcome their challenges together.
With the support of their mother, the sisters embark on a journey to bring Camino to New York, looking towards a future filled with possibilities.
Yahaira is a 16-year-old living in New York. She’s a former competitive chess player with a complex relationship with her father, Papi, especially after discovering his secret life. Yahaira is resilient, intelligent, and emotionally strong, often acting as the pillar of strength for her grieving mother. She is in a relationship with her girlfriend, Dre.
Camino, also 16, lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt, Tía Solana. She dreams of becoming an obstetrician and attending Columbia University. Camino’s life is upended by her father’s death, exposing her to threats like El Cero, a local pimp. She is resourceful and brave, facing life’s hardships with determination.
Papi (The Father)
Papi, the father of Yahaira and Camino, leads a double life, having families in both New York and the Dominican Republic. His death in the plane crash is the pivotal event that brings his two daughters together. He is a complex character, portrayed as both caring and deeply flawed.
Zoila, Yahaira’s mother in New York, is devastated by her husband’s death and the revelation of his other family. She embodies strength and resilience, eventually supporting both of her husband’s daughters and playing a crucial role in uniting the family.
Tía Solana, Camino’s aunt and caregiver in the Dominican Republic, is a nurturing and protective figure. She provides emotional and practical support to Camino, especially after the death of her brother, Papi.
Dre is Yahaira’s girlfriend and neighbor in New York. She provides emotional support and understanding, standing by Yahaira through her family’s crisis and personal struggles.
El Cero is a local pimp in the Dominican Republic who poses a significant threat to Camino after Papi’s death. He symbolizes the dangers and challenges Camino faces in her environment.
Carline is Camino’s best friend in the Dominican Republic, heavily pregnant and a source of companionship and normalcy for Camino amidst her turbulent life.
1. The Complexity of Family Dynamics
At its core, the novel explores the intricacies of family relationships. The revelation of Papi’s double life serves as a catalyst for unfolding the complexity of family secrets and the impact they have on individual identities.
Yahaira and Camino’s journey from strangers to sisters highlights the multifaceted nature of familial bonds.
The narrative delves into how secrets can fracture families, yet also how shared loss and understanding can lead to reconciliation and newfound connections.
Through the contrasting experiences of the two sisters, Acevedo examines the different facets of familial love, loyalty, and the challenges of navigating a family divided by secrets yet united by blood.
2. Grief and Loss
Another central theme is the profound impact of grief and loss. The sudden death of their father plunges Yahaira and Camino into a tumultuous sea of sorrow, forcing them to confront not only their personal loss but also the public nature of their father’s death in a plane crash.
The story presents grief as a multifaceted emotion, showcasing different ways individuals process loss.
Camino’s struggle for survival in the wake of her father’s death contrasts with Yahaira’s internal battle and the unraveling of her family’s secrets.
The narrative poignantly captures the essence of grief – its ability to isolate individuals while simultaneously connecting them through shared pain.
3. Identity and Self-Discovery
Integral to the novel is the theme of identity and the journey towards self-discovery.
The sisters, coming from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, embark on a path of understanding not only each other but also themselves. For Yahaira, this means reconciling the image of her father she grew up with, with the reality of his double life.
For Camino, it is about finding her place in the world without the financial and emotional support of her father.
Their individual journeys are emblematic of the broader search for identity that many young people face, especially within the context of complex family histories and multicultural backgrounds.
The novel adeptly portrays how the fusion of these diverse identities shapes their perspectives and choices.
Elizabeth Acevedo, with her characteristic lyrical poetry, crafts a narrative that is not just a story of two sisters but a deeper exploration of identity, family secrets, and the resilient spirit of young women facing extraordinary circumstances.
“Clap When You Land” is a tribute to those affected by Flight AA587 and a testament to the enduring strength of community and family ties.