This is only the second book I’ve read that’s written in verse, but it’s my first book from this author, so I went into this pretty blind. While I still can’t say anything about the structure of the verses and how that plays into the story tempo, I can say that this was an immensely powerful book. “Clap When You Land” is the story of two sisters who only learn of each other’s existence when unthinkable tragedy and grief pulls them together. The story gives us both sister’s POV so the reader can really see how these two girls, connected by blood, view their world and home, their parents and culture, and how they process grief and betrayal differently. I felt Acevedo captured the different voices of her main characters incredibly well and how she captured their grief, their anger, and just the rawness of their tragedy in an incredible and moving way, but the heavy to the light ratio did seem just a tad disproportional to me come the end.
Underneath the story of grief is this tension around family secrets and what that can do to people. I loved how Acevedo captured this mentality of “we didn’t tell you because we wanted to protect you” and how selfish and damaging that is. Ultimately, the person “you” are protecting, isn’t really the person you’re protecting, “you’re” only protecting yourself from a painful reality. By taking the choice away from someone, the consequences of that secret become far more damaging, and as someone who has been in a similar situation, Acevedo captured those raw feelings, that anger from the person being “protected” perfectly. But beyond that, and how atmospheric Acevedo writes especially when the POV takes the reader to the Dominican Republic (I’ve been once, and it is a gorgeous country full of vibrant and passionate people), it can’t be understated how important this book is for how it looks at the grieving process without vilifying how these characters process their trauma. These characters show that you can still love someone even if they are complex and severely flawed, and even when someone unexpectedly leaves your life, they still leave a mark, and sometimes leave behind new family for you to get to know and discover. The journey these two sisters take to get to know each other and navigate these unfamiliar waters is as powerful as it is moving, but it took awhile to get to that uplifting part of sisterhood.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved how these sisters processed their grief and how the tragedy impacted them differently, but the book pretty much starts on the worst day of these girls’ lives, and for almost 80% of the story, the reader stays firmly in these girls’ trauma. Which is a lot, and can be incredibly heavy and scary at times, especially as one of the sisters is in more danger now with her father gone. The book does end on an uplifting note, things turn around for both girls and the reader is left feeling hopeful for both of their futures and excited that this fractured family is building and becoming whole again, but I felt it was almost too little of the “good” with how much the book hyper focused in on these girl’s pain. It could simply be that I read this at a bad time, the world is still raw and scary and so my emotional capacity for heavy topics is already pretty low, but that’s ultimately why I’m giving this 4 stars. I just wanted a little more of their life after tragedy, especially as Acevedo’s writing was such a joy to read. I would highly recommend this book though, maybe not when someone is emotionally tender, but it is an important read for both diversity and for normalizing grief. I also wonder if listening to the audio version of this book would have a different impact as then, I’d imagine, the verse format can really shine, and maybe the heavier parts wouldn't have weighed me down as much as they did.
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