86 pages • 2 hours readElizabeth Acevedo
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Writer Elizabeth Acevedo was 13 when flight AA587, on its route to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, crashed in Queens, just two months after September 11, 2001. As the crash had no ties to terrorism, coverage tapered off quickly, and yet the confusion and heartache of the event lingered for the Dominican community in the America and overseas. Released in 2020, Clap When You Land a young adult novel-in-verse that commemorates that moment in time.
Clap When You Land follows Camino and Yahaira Rios, sisters living on different continents and who are unaware of one another’s existence. When the plane their father is on crashes, Camino and Yahaira’s lives are upended, and they are put on a path that will inevitably lead them to one another. Using her lyrical poetry, National Poetry Slam Champion Elizabeth Acevedo delivers a story of sisterhood, mourning, and coming of age that offers insight into the Dominican American community. This summary guide is based on the 2021 Kindle edition of this book.
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Camino Rios lives in Sosúa, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic with her aunt, Tía Solana, a powerful healer. Her half-sister, Yahaira Rios, is a talented chess player who lives with her mother, Mami, in Queens, New York. Their father, Papi, is traveling between them when his plane, flight 1112, drops suddenly into the Atlantic ocean, killing him and everyone else on board. Papi’s death sets events into motion that will lead both Camino and Yahaira to uncover their father’s many secrets, and one another.
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While Yahaira reels from the news, hoping against odds for survivors, Camino is stalked by a street hustler named El Cero. El Cero is known to deal in underage prostitutes, and though Papi was paying him to stay away, El Cero has begun following Camino to the beach where she swims. While El Cero represents a looming threat, mounting financial trouble in the wake of her father’s death threatens Camino’s dreams of one day leaving Puerto Plata and studying medicine in New York. As weeks pass and El Cero’s advances become bolder, Tía Solana receives a call from Camino’s uncle, Tío Jorge, about her father’s other wife.
After news that her father’s remains have been identified, an insurance representative for the airline come to discuss a reconciliatory advance: a sum of money to be rewarded to Yahaira and Mami to avoid a lawsuit. Although Tío Jorge strongly suggests pursuing a legal battle with the airline, Mami takes the money. Papi’s will dictates his last wishes to be buried in the Dominican Republic. Mami relents to this arrangement but forbids Yahaira from attending her father’s burial overseas.
In the Dominican Republic, Tía Solana relays the information from Tío Jorge to Camino, explaining the airline money, which Camino can lay legal claim to as Papi’s daughter. Tía Solana warns that Papi had another daughter by a wife with connections at the consular’s office that she could use to block her claim. In the flurry of emotions these revelations bring, Camino seizes on the idea that she has a sister. Soon, she reaches out to Yahaira on social media.
In the summer before Papi’s death, Yahaira found his marriage certificate to Camino’s mother. Disappointed in her father’s infidelity, Yahaira distanced herself from Papi without considering that he might also have a second daughter. When Yahaira receives Camino’s friend request, she is shocked by Camino’s profile picture: an image of Papi posing with a young girl bearing her father’s features. As Yahaira is overcome by the shocking news that she has a sister, Mami is forced to reveal the truth she had been trying to protect Yahaira from. She tells Yahaira that her father’s other wife was a close friend of hers growing up and that after her death, Papi refused to abandon Camino. Yahaira reaches out to Camino, suggesting that they video chat.
As Camino and Yahaira come face to face over the internet, they promptly begin to conspire together to reach their goals. For Yahaira, Camino presents a path toward attending Papi’s funeral in the Dominican Republic. As El Cero’s advances become more severe, however, Camino tells Yahaira that she will not include her in the ceremony unless she transfers $10,000 of the airline advance to her. Yahaira wires Camino the money and uses Mami’s credit card to buy a ticket to the Dominican Republic.
When Yahaira arrives in Sosúa, Camino and Yahaira are slow to let their guard down. As they get to know each other, they explore an intrinsic sisterly bond, realizing that they share the same grief, hopes, and fears. Mami soon learns of Yahaira’s absence and arrives in time to join the sisters for Papi’s funeral, a loud and boisterous that the entire neighborhood attends.
Despite her growing affection for Yahaira, Camino steals her sister’s passport, planning to illegally enter the United States by passing herself off as Yahaira. Returning to the beachfront one more time, she is cornered and attacked by El Cero, when he finds that in her bag, Camino is carrying thousands of dollars in cash. Yahaira, Mami, and Tía Solana arrive in time to fend off El Cero.
In the days after, Mami uses her connections to expedite Camino’s emergency visa into the United States. She explains that El Cero will come back for her, and though she had been afraid of opening her heart to Camino, she would like to step in as her guardian and stepmother. Camino uses her final days in Sosúa to say goodbye to the country and friends who nurtured her throughout her entire life. In the novel’s final scene, Camino sits beside her sister on the plane to New York, anticipating takeoff. Yahaira holds her hand and warns her that when they land, some of the passengers will clap in celebration.
By Elizabeth Acevedo
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