As I was reading the last few chapters of “Clap When You Land” news broke of a horrible plane crash in Pakistan that I can’t help but find similar to the crash that acts as a catalyst in Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel.
The crash that inspired Acevedo was Flight 587, which due to pilot error and mechanical failure, crashed in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens shortly after take off.
The flight was en route to the capital of the Dominican Republic, and as Acevedo writes in her author’s notes at the end of the novel, ninety percent of the passengers were of Dominican descent, many of whom were returning home. She shares her personal experience as a young girl as the New York Dominican community was shattered.
Twenty years later, Acevedo was able to use that tragedy and the stories from her community that came out of the event to craft a poetic novel of family, of resilience and the strength that can be found when one is able to meet their history head on, even if in grief or anger or betrayal, and make it their own.
Now, in a city on the other side of the world, another plane destined for another capital city has crashed into a heavily populated area. Mechanical failure is again seemingly to blame, with reports of malfunctioning landing gear preventing a safe landing at the nearby airport.
But that certainly won’t comfort the families of the 99 people on board or the dozens believed to have been killed on the ground. Families who, like Acevedo’s main characters, will oscillate between denial and hope and heartbreaking grief in the weeks ahead.
One further tragedy of Flight 587 is how it was overshadowed by 9/11 as it occurred two months and one day after that event. When the cause of the crash was ruled pilot error and not terrorism the story seemed to be abandoned by the media and many of us not affected by it probably have little or no memory of it even happening.
I would hope that our memory of Flight PK8303, overshadowed this time by a global pandemic, is not so short as it was in 2001. But as Acevedo proves by so powerfully and poetically capturing the dynamic and turbulent grieving process of her characters, and her own memories and experiences two decades ago, there will always be those who remember, who transform their memory and heartbreak into something tangible and shareable, and in doing so welcome those of us not touched directly by tragedy into their community.
There’s such a rough poetry to this story, a rhythm that carries the shaking, emotionally charged and physically unsteady words that I’m not sure would have been as captivating had I not listened to the author read it himself.
It needs to be performed and witnessed to be experienced, and Reynolds acknowledges as much in the interview that follows the audiobook edition as he explains why he wrote it as he did.
There is a universe of all the unwritten backstory that populates the neighborhood surrounding this short novel, that surrounds the elevator Will rides as the ghosts of his life; his father, uncle, friends—one by one enter and tell their story, their stories, the stories that are all connected, linked together like chains around the living left behind that drag Will down.
These stories piece together the reality that their violence obscured, and Will begins to understand how the rules he has lived by, that his world is governed by serve only to keep them all locked in an unending cycle of ignorance and violence.
This brought to mind several things I’ve read recently, and quickly, for subject and style this should be read with:
📙Walter Dean Myers’ “Monster”
📕Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give”
📘Kwame Alexander’s “Swing”
📙Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X”
📕John Edgar Wideman’s “Brothers and Keepers”
📘James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk”