Review for “Clap When You Land” by Elizabeth Acevedo (2020)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
This is a beautifully multi-layered novel written in verse. Much like her other two novels (“The Poet X” and “With the Fire on High”), Elizabeth Acevedo manages to hit the ball out of the park again. She’s incapable of writing bad books, she has a gift and it is plainly evident in her writing.
“Clap When You Land” is a dual, alternating narrative told by two sisters who, at the beginning of the novel, do not yet know that they share a father in the same man. Camino lives in the Dominican Republic and longs to go to Columbia University in NYC, where her father lives and works for most of the year. Yahaira lives in Manhattan and hasn’t spoken to her dad since she found out that he has another wife in the DR. Their lives are vastly different: Yahaira has a girlfriend and loves to play chess, Camino is a talented swimmer and works with her aunt, a local healer. Both girls’ lives collide when their father dies in an airplane crash on his way from NYC to the island. Slowly, the two girls discover one another’s existence and carefully begin to form a bond.
Once again, this is a wonderfully complex book that explores toxic masculinity, socioeconomics, family bonds, and coming to terms with family secrets. I highly recommend reading this, you won’t want to miss it!
Certain books will always remind you of the past and the time period of your life you were in when you read it. I’ve listed a few that make me a bit nostalgic for that special moment.
Top Five Books That Are Linked to Special Moments in My Life
Frog and Toad Are Friends – Arnold Lobel
This is one of the very first books I remember reading when I was a kid.
“I Can’t,” Said the Ant – Polly Cameron
Another book that makes me misty-eyed. I remember my Dad used to read this book to me and my younger sister every night before we went to bed. He used to do different voices for each character, and we both thought that was the greatest thing in the world.
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Hamlet has always been my favorite Shakespeare play, ever since I read it in high school. I remember reading this out loud when I was pregnant with my son, hoping he would “hear” it and the words would soothe him during the evenings when he would kick me like crazy. He is now a teenager and he loves to read, so I think that this book was an excellent choice.
Ariel – Sylvia Plath
I first came to know about Plath when I was in 7th grade. I remember reading one of her poems (ironically entitled “Spinster”) and at that moment being really, really moved by it. I went to the library and looked up some of her other poems, and from there it became an obsession. I did my undergraduate thesis on Sylvia Plath. I’m very proud of that work.
The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s first book. This was the book that truly “awakened” me to the world of Black literature (before this point my reading was mostly White/European authors) and women’s literature. I read this book and thought: this is what I want to read and write about for the rest of my life. And it’s still the topic that I’m writing about today.
Review for "The Terrible" by Yrsa Daley Ward (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is a very unique memoir. It is written in prose, but large parts of it are written in verse. There’s no pattern to what the next page is going to be (a poem or prose), but that was perfectly OK. I was too wrapped up in the author’s words. Needless to say, I loved this book.
Yrsa Daley-Ward, author of bone, tells a very honest story about her life. Her and her younger brother grow up in a very strict, very religious Seven-Day Adventist household with her mother’s parents. With her father absent, her and her brother go to live with their mother later in her childhood. The relationship between her and her mother is dysfunctional as well. Eventually Ward drifts into a life of drugs, drinking, depression, and sex work. There is a lot of pain invoked in this novel, along with an exploration on inter-generational conflicts, pain not healed that is passed from parent to children.
I won’t tell you too much more about this book because I don’t want to spoil it. It is definitely worth your time to read it. Four stars.
Review for "The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is a beautiful book.
Xiomara Batista is a Dominican teenager growing up in present-day Harlem, NYC. She writes poems in her notebook to express her honest thoughts, mostly on her best friend, her twin brother, her father, and her ultra-religious, overbearing mother. Outside of her brother and her best friend Xiomara does not have much of a social life, she is forced to attend church services and confirmation classes by her mother. Her life changes, however, when she falls in love with a boy from her school and is encouraged to pursue her poetry by one of her teachers.
A lot of the trophes in this book are a bit cliche: first love, parental misunderstanding, the questioning of religion, discovering one’s voice through poetry. Oddly though, while reading this I never really considered these things as ‘done before,’ I just found myself getting lost in the book and letting Xiomara’s words shine through. I loved the poetry here, I loved Xiomara.
I normally don’t care too much for novels in verse, I find most poetic narrative styles kind of stuffy and trite. Not so with this book, I could have read this for another 100 pages. Very well done, highly recommend.
Review for "Long Way Down" by Jason Reynolds (2017)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Not the first novel in verse I’ve read but certainly one of the best.
Will is a teenager who has just lost his older brother in a shocking act of violence. The morning after, he finds his brother’s loaded gun and gets on his building’s elevator, going down, in pursuit of his brother’s murderer to kill him. At each floor, the elevator stops and a different person from Will’s past “gets” on, imploring him to think about his choices before it’s too late. It’s a fascinatingly interesting story, one that I think I actually respected more for the fact that it was written in verse–extraneous details skipped, only the bare bones here. It’s 300 pages or so but only took a couple of hours to read. The ending was a bit confusing, but after several reads I came to appreciate it for what it was–completely and superbly ambiguous to the reader.
As a former teacher I can see this being used in middle or high school classrooms, because there’s so many dialogue and discussion possibilities present with this book. It takes place during anytime and anyplace and anywhere and doesn’t offer any easy answers. Despite inevitable criticism to the contrary, I don’t see why this book should make the problem of violence a simple one, as everyone knows that it’s a complicated cycle that repeats itself over and over again. It’s also great reading for adults like me, I loved this book immensely.
This novel sets a pretty high bar for all other YA poetry books, which is good because I am starting to feel that this form of story-telling is becoming somewhat over saturated. Definitely recommended.
Review for "Tricks" by Ellen Hopkins (2009)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
This is my second book by Ellen Hopkins. My first was “Crank,” her novel in verse about a girl hooked on crystal meth, based loosely on the life of her own daughter. Hopkins is quite a prolific YA writer, tackling many of the issues that people tend to avoid when writing for teenagers. She’s written about drug abuse, mental health issues, sexual abuse, eating disorders. I’m not so much a fan of her verse as I am her fearlessness, because I admit that I’m drawn to her books for much of the reason I imagine most people are, to see how certain issues are portrayed for a YA audience.
“Tricks” is no exception; it tells the story of five teenagers who find themselves for various reasons lost in the dangerous world of prostitution. Eden is the daughter of a conservative religious family who is sent away to a Bible camp; Seth is a farm boy who struggles with his sexuality and finds himself a Vegas sugar daddy; Whitney is a goody-goody who stumbles into the arms of a drug-dealing pimp; Ginger is from a broken home and her entrance into the sex trade mirrors her own mother’s, and Cody is a kid who sells himself to men to ease his gambling debts.
I would have preferred to read each character’s story straight through, much like a short story. Instead, Hopkins focuses on one character for while, then abruptly switches to another. The constant starting and stopping of the narrative made it hard to get to know each character and made the book as a whole hard to follow. It never really had a good sense of cohesion and gave it the feel that it was five separate stories instead of one. There was some overlap of the characters, but it was fairly minor (one character mentioning another did occur, but only in passing).
This book is also really explicit in its sexual scenes. I won’t go into detail but if you’re unfamiliar with gay porn or girl-girl-guy threesomes I would leave this book on the shelf. I’m in my 30’s and I felt uncomfortable reading it, not because I’m a prude, but for the sake of the audience it was written for. Personally I wouldn’t allow my teen son to read this unless he was super-mature, which he isn’t. The details were a little too salacious for my taste and the story got lost in the process.
There is a second story in this series that picks up where the action of this story left off. I may read it eventually, but for right now I think I’m good with this.