All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land 
Elizabeth Acevedo
Hot Key Books
2020, 417p
Read via my local library/Borrow Box

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance – and Papi’s secrets – the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.

Papi’s death uncovers all the painful truths he kept hidden, and the love he divided across an ocean. And now, Camino and Yahaira are both left to grapple with what this new sister means to them, and what it will now take to keep their dreams alive.

In a dual narrative novel in verse that brims with both grief and love, award-winning and bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

I’m the first to admit that stories in verse are generally not my thing. I’ve not read too many of them and the ones I have read, I’ve been so-so on. But I loved Elizabeth Acevedo’s With The Fire On High so much that I’d read anything by her. Probably even her shopping list. I think her first novel was also in verse but I’ve not read that, although it’s high on my list.

This was really good. It did take me a little while to settle into it and I think reading it in the format I did, sometimes made it a bit hard to remember which point of view I was currently in for the first few narration changes. The story details two girls, one living in New York City and one living in the Dominican Republic. For Camino, her father lives in the US and he visits her every summer. She looks forward to those days, especially as he’s supposed to be bringing her to the US. Her mother has passed away and she’s being raised by an aunt but Camino has big dreams to become a doctor and hopefully, that’ll happen in America. In New York, Yahaira’s father disappears every summer. But this time, he doesn’t come back. And both Camino and Yahaira are suddenly aware that the father they idolised had hidden many things from them.

So much was conveyed in this book, without an excess of words. The two girls are very different – one has grown up in a more traditional family unit and she has idolised her father, until she discovers one of his secrets. The other has already faced the loss of one parent and now, at 17, loses her other parent. The death of her father puts Camino in a bad situation – her father was paying the fees for her school and without that, her future is uncertain. He was also paying protection for her, avoiding her being harassed by local boys and with that – her future could be dangerous. When the two girls discover each other’s existence, it’s not an easy ride to sisterhood.

Elizabeth Acevedo uses the very real flight of American Airlines flight 587 as her inspiration for the catalyst of this story, something that severely impacted the Dominican Republic community both in New York and at home. The difference between the two lifestyles of the girls was portrayed incredibly well – Camino deals with poverty, the dangers of lurking boys who won’t take no for an answer, her pregnant friend juggling school and the desire to be a doctor. She’s been learning a local form of medicine from her aunt, who is a well respected caregiver and attends births and things like that. But Camino dreams of college in America, something that her father was supposed to make happen – what Camino doesn’t know is that in order for her father to secure her a visa, he needs the assistance of someone that Camino didn’t even know existed until after his death in the plane crash.

When the two sisters’ worlds collide, it’s not an easy path. They’re both almost adults and having to deal with the fact that just the other exists is enough. They are almost the same age – so what does that say about what sort of person their father was? How did that happen? Both of them have a lot of conflicted feelings toward him as well but he’s also no longer here for them to vent those feelings and get some answers. And they are still grieving the person they knew for their whole lives, no matter what their recent discoveries. Their feelings are similar, yet different. The sting of betrayal is the same, the feelings of hurt and confusion and anger and resentment. But then there’s more than that. They share a kinship in more ways than one.

This was a really powerful story and I read it in a single sitting. It’s another stellar read from a talented author. I really need to get myself a copy of The Poet X to read whilst I await her next book.

8/10

Book #147 of 2020

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Review: With The Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With The Fire On High 
Elizabeth Acevedo
Hardie Grant Egmont
2019, 388p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Ever since she got pregnant during freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions, doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela.

The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen. There, she lets her hands tell her what to cook, listening to her intuition and adding a little something magical every time, turning her food into straight-up goodness.  Even though she’s always dreamed of working in a kitchen after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible.

But then an opportunity presents itself to not only enrol in a culinary arts class in her high school, but also to travel abroad to Spain for an immersion program. Emoni knows that her decisions post high school have to be practical ones, but despite the rules she’s made for her life — and everyone else’s rules that she refuses to play by — once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.

I heard a lot of wonderful things about this book last year when it was published and it was always on my radar to read. Then I realised that it would fit neatly into at least one category for my Reading Women Podcast Challenge, which bumped it up my priority list a bit. I hadn’t read anything for that challenge yet and I’d like to make steady progress in each of my challenges throughout the year, rather than trying to scramble to find reads to finish them when it’s coming to the end of the year. So I requested this from my local library.

Emoni had a baby about two years ago when she was around fifteen. She’s now seventeen and her “baby girl” is old enough to go to daycare. Emoni fought hard to stay in her regular school, rather than going to a school specifically for young teenage mothers and she finds her plate full up with not only parenting her child and finishing school but also working part time at a burger place in order to earn some extra money. She lives with her grandmother, who also raised her after Emoni’s mother died during her birth and her father wasn’t able to cope with the idea of single fatherhood, heading back to Puerto Rico. He visits every year, appearing and vanishing at will, leaving Emoni with some very complicated feelings about him. She’s no longer in a relationship with her daughter’s father although the two do have a relatively amicable coparenting agreement, albeit one that favours Tyrone in that he only has every other weekend now that she’s getting old enough to have sleepovers away from Emoni. The day to day parenting load is all on Emoni and her abuela, who has helped Emoni from day one.

Emoni’s passion is food and she’d love to work within this industry, but she’s not sure how to map out her future. School can be a struggle for her and university is just more years between her and earning enough money to support her daughter (and grandmother). Plus she’ll graduate with debt. Then her school introduces a culinary arts class, which could help Emoni realise the future she wants for herself.

I adored this book. From the very beginning I was hooked on the story and really became invested in Emoni’s life, her attempts to balance everything and make the best life she could for herself and her daughter. She’s dedicated and determined and works so hard. She is pretty honest about her abilities as a student – plenty of work doesn’t come easy for her and she knows a lot of colleges will be out of her grasp. She’s a natural at cooking though, instinctively knowing what ingredients complement each other and how to really give a meal something extra. Her food evokes memory and she just has that true connection with food. She’s not a recipe or rules person however, which causes her some conflict with the chef in charge of the culinary arts class she enrols in at school. He knows she’s incredibly gifted but in order to do the job, you have to learn the theory and have that background knowledge. I really enjoyed the way the two of them clashed a bit at first but I think deep down you could tell how supportive he was of her and how he thought she had a place in the future in that industry. The ideas and motivations that Emoni has to raise money for a trip to Spain is really impressive – she thinks outside the box, practical ideas that not only help them in their goal but give them experience.

I appreciated the balance in this story – there’s equal parts devoted to Emoni’s struggles with her ‘load’ – school, work, her daughter, her grandmother as well as her complicated feelings for and relationship with her father, as well as her precarious co-parenting agreement with her ex-boyfriend and the difficulties faced in sharing that as well as the complications of his family not approving of her. There’s also a new boy at school who wants to be friends with Emoni but she definitely wants to make sure that he’s not just looking for one thing. Seeing as she got pregnant very young, she saw how that changed the way people looked at her, and how they continue to still look at her that way. She didn’t get pregnant alone but her ex doesn’t face the same sort of judgement that Emoni does and he also has very little in the way of responsibility. He also wants to tell Emoni what she can and can’t do in regards to other boys and who she can and cannot bring around her home and have around their daughter. I liked the way Emoni stood up for herself calmly but firmly. It’s the same when she feels looked down upon by his mother, or judged for not doing the right thing. I admired her restraint at times, the way she managed to keep herself collected even when she was being unfairly treated.

I should also mention the food, and Emoni’s love of and devotion to preparing the food of her culture. Her grandmother is from Puerto Rico and her father has gone back there to live. I love reading books about food, where food makes up an important part of the narrative and this book has some mouthwatering descriptions and Emoni’s passion for cooking leaps off the page. I especially like the way her cooking played back into her relationship with her father and his complicated feelings about eating her food. It was such a small part of the book but it was very powerful. Also Emoni emails her aunt, her late mother’s sister a lot and they swap recipes back and forth, Emoni often altering them or adding her own flair and then sending it back. It was a way for her to be able to stay connected to her mother’s family. So many subtle ways in which the author explores relationships and connections.

I really enjoyed this. I know Elizabeth Acevedo’s Poet X is also well lauded but I generally do not do well with poetry. However I might just be tempted to try it…and I’m definitely looking forward to future offerings.

9/10

Book #19 of 2020

I’m going to count this one for prompt #1 – author from the Caribbean or India (with the diaspora counting for this prompt). Elizabeth Acevedo was born in the US to Dominican parents. This is the first book completed in the challenge!

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