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Season 2, Episode 8

Battle of the Book

May 27, 2021

Two librarians debate their opposing views on the same teen book, Elizabeth Acevedo's "Clap When You Land." Book Recommendations for Tween and Teen Readers.

Titles Mentioned in This Episode

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Charity 0:01 Welcome to the Planet Book Podcast. I'm your host, Charity, a youth services associate with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. On each episode, you'll hear guests talking about their favorite tween and teen books. Thanks for joining me today. On this episode, I'm joined by Jeannine, a youth services manager with the Springfield-Greene County Library District. And today we're doing a different kind of episode of Planet Book. Today we're going to do an episode I'm going to call battle of the book. We have read the same book, and we have a different take on this book. And so we thought it would be fun to have this conversation with our listeners. So Jeannine, welcome to the podcast.

Jeannine 0:42 Thank you, Charity. I am so excited to battle a book with you today.

Charity 0:47 So I feel like I have to give just a little backstory on this for listeners who don't know. So Jeannine and I have worked together for a long time. And despite having similar personalities, we often have very different takes on the same book. So if she tends to really like a book, I know that nine times out of ten, I'm probably going to really not like it.

Jeannine 1:10 Very true and vice versa.

Charity 1:14 From picture books to chapter books, you name it. This is so often the case. And so I thought it would be fun to share our views on the same book. So the book that we are going to battle today is Elizabeth Acevedo's newest book Clap When You Land. If that name sounds familiar, Acevedo also did the Poet X which came out in 2018. She did With the Fire on High that came out in 2019. And she's won a lot of awards. She's a National Book Award winner, she won the Carnegie medal for Poet X, which is the UK's most prestigious prize for youth literature. She won the Printz award in 2019 and Clap When You Land is getting tons of good buzz. She is an accomplished poet, and I think has won awards for her poetry as well, her slam poetry. So she's a very accomplished poet and author, best selling author at this point. And so Jeannine since you're the guest, I'm gonna let you start this conversation, share your thoughts, give us a brief summary of the book and then let's get into the conversation.

Jeannine 2:25 Okay, sounds good. So, basically Clap When You Land focuses on two 17 year old girls. I believe they're both 17, close, really close in age. They were just born within, you know, six months of one another. And one lives in New York City. Her name is Yahaira and she had an apartment. They, you know, have some money; her mother's like a manager at a beauty salon. And Yahaira is, she's a good student but not exceptional. She goes to public school. And she, her father she calls Papi and her father lives with them in New York City, basically nine months out of the year and then leaves every summer to go to the Dominican Republic and that is where he's from. So Yahaira is half, you know, Dominican Republican, Republic and half black. And the other protagonist in the story, her name is Camino and she lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt, Tia, and she sees her father three months out of the year in the summertime. He is Papi. These girls have never been aware of one another when suddenly a tragedy occurs and they are flung together. So this is a mystery. It starts out you hear both sides of the story. Camino, who lives in the DR with aunt, her mother died. Camino's mother died when she was a young girl. Her mother died of the Dengue fever, which is an illness brought on by a mosquito bite. And so, but she's very close to her Tia who has taken care of her ever since her mother died. Once again her Papi comes three months out of the year. Anyway, Camino and Yahaira live very different lives. Camino's aunt and Camino they struggle financially. They live in the barrio. But Papi has always insisted that Camino go to the American school, the International School. It's a private school, and so he pays the tuition for her to attend that school. When this tragedy occurs, the girls are flung together, a mystery unravels and we find out how the two are connected. Let me just throw in, first off, I loved this book, Charity. I both listened to it on audio, which it's an amazing audiobook. It has two narrators, who, you know, narrate each girl's, you know, their respective girl's story. They come together at times in a duet of voices which is amazing. This is a book that's written in verse. It's an amazing audiobook. Acevedo is one of the narrators and I apologize, I don't remember who the other narrator is. But anyway, I loved it. I thought it was beautiful and powerful. I also read the print copy of the book, which was powerful. That's my take on it.

Charity 5:47 Okay. So can you be a little more specific about what you loved about it? Like what, was there a certain element or was there a part that really kind of stuck with you?

Jeannine 5:59 Well, I think it's a really good own voices story. Yahaira is once again, she is, she's darker actually than Camino. She is, her mother I believe is African American. The father is Dominican Republic. And so she, you know, is both those combined, but she's dark. Camino is lighter skinned with lighter eyes. So I just think it's a really good, I think Acevedo has a gift for capturing this culture in her writing. There's a lot of Spanish spoken in the book, too. I found myself looking up words a lot. I learned a lot of Spanish words because I do not speak Spanish. And she captures the Voodoo culture that exists in the Dominican Republic, which I didn't know about too much and that was interesting to me. And she just really, I think she's really good at giving voice to teenage girls, as well. Both Yahaira and Camino experience their own forms of being sexually harassed. And she captures what that's like the pain, the fear, the shame that goes along with being assaulted, actually, they were both sexually assaulted, I just think she really has an ability to connect with that teen, young teen girl voice. So and I think she's a great writer.

Charity 7:30 Well, I have to say, I won't really disagree with you on any of that. I do love that she is an own voice author. So she is writing from her culture and giving you a glimpse into that Latinx culture, when and all of the language I think readers who are really into the language of stories will really appreciate her writing. Because being a poet, she does have a great way of putting a phrase together. I mean, there are some parts that are really a beautiful turn of phrase. And this story has the kind of LGBTQ representation as well, which I appreciated. And it's just, it's not about that. It's just, this is who Yahaira is. And so I appreciate that voicing, I appreciate that representation. But I think one of the parts that I didn't like, and you said you did like it is, all of the Spanish words that she throws in there. Which I liked, I don't know that I've read a book though where they didn't kind of put those in context so you understood what they meant.

Jeannine 8:35 Yeah. I thought the same thing.

Charity 8:36 And she doesn't do that.

Jeannine 8:39 She's kind of presumptuous.

Charity 8:42 Yeah. And so I don't know if the feeling is that it's on you as the reader to go figure out what they mean.

Jeannine 8:49 She makes you work for it, yeah.

Charity 8:51 Yeah, she does make you work for it. And I'm glad you mentioned the, the sexual assault that happens. You know, I feel like she almost tries to cram too much into this story, which was one of the issues for me. Because you have, you have the whole issue with with the dad that, you know, these sisters that don't know about each other, you've got the culture, you've got, and then all of a sudden you've got this sexual assault, and it's like, oh my gosh, like, these girls are already going through a lot. Why did you throw that in there? That, I mean, what did you think about that? I could have totally done without that.

Jeannine 9:25 See, I thought that's one of the major threads that connected the two. So yes, spoiler alert, they do find out they're sisters, right? And basically, when Yahaira is in New York, you know, she's sexually assaulted on a city bus. A passenger, a male passenger sits next to her basically, you know snakes a hand up her leg, you know, up her skirt and sexually assaults her there on a city bus. And she's so shocked and she's so ashamed and she's so, she's just, doesn't know what to do. She's just stunned,okay. And that's, I think Acevedo really captures what that would be like, like being sexually assaulted in public. Like, what do you do? You're the 17 year old, 16 year old girl, you know, you have a fear of adults, right? You know, are you going to speak up for yourself? I mean, that's a tricky situation. He totally exploited her vulnerability. And then Camino has the same thing happen to her with the creepy pimp guy that hangs out on the beach. And her father, Papi owes him money. And he, after Papi dies, he is harassing her continually trying to get her to, you know, pay, repay her father's debts, and basically exploit her sexually. And the book ends in a culminating scene that is very, very scary.

Charity 11:02 Yeah,it's pretty intense.

Jeannine 11:04 And there's that power struggle, and that you know, who's gonna win here? And then I think Yahaira recognizes that, you know, that same feeling in what happened to her on the bus. And so I feel like that is a thread that really connects them, you know, their experiences, because they feel very different from one another, right?

Charity 11:25 Yeah, I mean, they're two completely different girls. And so, you know, they do have that thread that connects them. And that is the moment in the story, at least for me, when I felt like you really see them sort of become a team, like now they're really sisters, as Yahaira helps Camino through that event. But that was also one of the things that bugged me about this story. So you know pretty early on you've got these two girls who are sisters, and it feels like it takes so long for you to get to that moment. And I don't know how you felt. I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. But I was reading and I'm like, okay, when are they finally gonna meet? Let's just get to that point where that happens. And it just, it's not, to me it wasn't a page turner, which is odd to say because I listened to the audio, but it just felt like it took a long time to get there.

Jeannine 12:11 Yeah, I feel like I understand that sentiment, although I thought that it was, I thought it was a well paced, you know, mystery. I mean, you don't, you realize, you know, there's this secret Acevedo plants, you know, this seed of oooh, you know, of Yahaira, finding the certificate. And then she starts to mistrust her father and this is when he's still alive. And you know, Acevedo draws that out and we were like, what is it, you know, and then over time you learn. But I think in the meantime, she is building a sense of place and a sense of the vast differences between these girls, you know. Yahaira lives in America, which you know, automatically gives her a privilege that Camino has never known even though she goes to the international school. She feels different because she's, her classmates are wealthy, you know, children of ambassadors and rich people basically, and she is basically poor. But her Papi has struggled to pay her tuition at the school. So I think Acevedo is really trying to show us the chasm that exists, you know, socially and economically between these girls, you know. Yahaira is a lesbian, right and Camino, I think she's heterosexual. And so I think she's just building their stories for us and helping us see their individual pain and their individual stories so that then she brings them together. I thought it was well done, but I can see how you thought it was slow. It wasn't a page turner. No, it's very character driven, the novel is.

Charity 14:06 Well, see I feel like I have to disagree with you there. I think, in my opinion, Acevedo's strength is, I think you used the phrase setting the scene like or setting the stage, she really does a great job of that. And kind of giving you a full picture of that setting and putting those characters into this world that you can totally picture and she does a great job of that. I think she, she didn't do as well of a job at developing those characters. I felt like she did a slightly better job with Camino. I felt like I got to understand kind of her backstory and her feelings and kind of her struggle in dealing with the loss of her dad and finding out she's got this sister. And she does a good job, I think, of kind of letting you in on her feelings and not quite an equal amount of coverage for Yahaira. And I just I think, I guess that's one of my, we call those doorways into reading, the characters, the plot, the setting, the language. And characters is one of the things I guess that I just really need, and I would have liked to see, I guess, a little more of the emotion, a little more on each of those girls than we get it. Because it's not a really long book. But…..

Jeannine 15:28 No, no, it's not. But also keep in mind, and in defense of this is that the audience that is targeted here is not, it's not a work of literary fiction for adults, right? It's aimed at that young adult audience, and of course, adults can totally appreciate it too. But you know, I do think that she is concise and it is in verse. So I do think that the beauty of a novel written in verse is that it has to be tight. You know, it's snippets. It's not long out descriptions, and you're getting imagery, right? But it's not so focused on all these details. Right? It can't be.

Charity 16:14 That's a good point. I mean, it is a novel in verse. And so yeah, it's gonna be a little a little leaner on some of those details than something written differently. Now, you said you started it in audiobook format but you finished it in the book. Did you have a preference, like did one of those kind of, did you enjoy one more than the other of those formats?

Jeannine 16:37 Yeah, you know, when I listened to it, I listened to it several months ago in anticipation of our talk today. I thought, oh, gosh, I need to review this again, because I read a lot and I may not remember all the details. So I picked up the print copy of the book, and I read it over the weekend. And I was so glad that I did read it in both formats because I really thought that the audiobook was beautiful. I'm a huge audiobook fan, and I thought it was a very well done audiobook, and just hearing the speakers correctly pronounce those Spanish words and hearing them, you know, bring life to this, you know, melodic verse, you know. The book is so lyrical in my opinion. And so hearing it and the way they did the duet parts where they come together and they read together I thought that was very powerful.

Charity 17:34 That was really interesting.

Jeannine 17:36 Yeah, I really, I thought that was really powerful. But in reading the print copy of the book I got a totally different experience and seeing that the form of the verse was really powerful to me because you actually see, you know, the way she does line breaks and she varies, the spacing between words for emphasis. And that was really powerful, too. I think that the readers honored those spaces and those line breaks. But seeing it was another experience altogether and helps bring a depth of appreciation to the story that I might not have had had I just listened to it.

Charity 18:17 Oh, for sure. What I'm realizing after reading this book, I had thought that I wouldn't read any more of her books, but maybe since she writes in verse maybe I just need to read the book because being able to see that visual on the page of how where those breaks are and that does add a whole other level of meaning to this. And so maybe I need to give her another try but read the book format and not the audio.

Jeannine 18:43 Well, one other thing I didn't bring up that I did want to discuss is, you know the Papi character who is basically dead from the get go of the story for us, right? That's where we come into the story. And he is this, he's an enigma. Is he not? Like, he's larger than life for both of these girls.

Charity 19:06 He's like the elephant in the room. I mean, it's like they talk all around him, but you never really get a sense of who he is. I'd like to see a companion novel to this where we get Papi's story.

Jeannine 19:17 Me too.

Charity 19:18 Like what happened Papi? Why do you have these two families? I mean, it's like the character. I mean, he's a major character but you don't...

Jeannine 19:29 She never really addresses...

Charity 19:32 Right, yeah, we never find out exactly.

Jeannine 19:35 He kind of ties it all together yet, like, and he's married to both of their mothers, but we really never understand how that went down.

Charity 19:41 Yes, there are a lot of unanswered questions there.

Jeannine 19:45 Yeah. So it really could be, I think, a companion sequel to this book, because I think it is a compelling mystery. And the fact of the matter is, is I'm sure this has happened before. I'm sure it happens in real life, and I think it's interesting, and I think people would find it interesting. So well, I mean, and I highly recommend her other books too. I thought I liked this one better than Poet X which is also written in verse. But I really liked the prose novel that she wrote With the Fire On High which I actually reviewed in another episode of this podcast. But I'm impressed by Acevedo's ability. She's a great writer, a great teen writer. And I think that she has, she's varied in her abilities to tell stories, Latinx stories.

Charity 20:47 Yeah, I would agree with you on that. I read Poet X and even though I didn't really care for that one either I did like this one better than that one. So I think there's a very definite audience. And there's so much in this one. So I could see this one appealing to a lot of different readers. So...

Jeannine 21:05 Yeah, I just like how she really tackles some really big, you know, she tackles social issues. She tackles racial issues. She, you know, tackles those LGBTQ issues and she is not judgmental, whatsoever. I like that she's just, she just puts these stories out there. And I just love it, I do. I think she is a poet, a writer for the times we live in for sure.

Charity 21:41 Well, this has been a lot of fun. Jeannine, thank you so much for coming on and battling the book with me today.

Jeannine 21:48 Yes, let's do it again.

Charity 21:49 We will definitely do it again. Thanks for joining us for another episode of the Planet Book podcast. Check out the library's website at for these and other great book recommendations, and follow us on Facebook for the latest news and events. This has been a production of the Springfield-Greene County Library District. Thanks for listening.

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