Danika reviews Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Papi was a man split in two,
playing a game against himself.

But the problem with that
is that in order to win, you also always lose.

Yahaira and Camino are half-sisters, but they don’t know it. Yahaira lives in New York City with her mother and father, though he goes to the Dominican Republic every summer. She has recently discovered the reason he makes this journey every year and is furious, refusing to speak to him (or let him know what’s wrong). Camino lives in the Dominican Republic and looks forward to her father’s yearly visits, especially since her mother passed away. They are both heartbroken when their father’s plane crashes and he passes away, unaware of their shared grief.

I was immediately interested in the premise of Clap When You Land. I have a big, messy family–we even discovered a long-lost aunt at one point–so I wanted to be able to read about these two characters discovering that they’re family, and figuring out how to assimilate that into their understanding of themselves.

This is my first Acevado book, and I’ve heard amazing things about them. I knew that some of her books are written in verse, but I wasn’t sure if this one was: I ended up listening to it as an audiobook, and I still wasn’t sure when the novel began. I realized that it is written in verse, but it works in spoken format, and sounds natural most of the time. There are also two narrators for the point of view characters, which I appreciated.

I loved the characters: they felt well-rounded and real, and I felt for them. Yahaira is trying to understand her life now that she knows her father has been lying to her. She had turned away from him and the values that he instilled, freezing him out before he got on the plane. She has stopped playing chess, which used to be a big part of their shared lives. She is lost afterwards, struggling to deal with the messy aftermath of death: her mother making funeral arrangements (in the Dominican Republic? In New York?), distant family members showing up at the door when the settlement money is brought up, and her teachers and classmates not knowing how to speak to her. She also has a girlfriend, who lives next door, and they have a very sweet relationship. It’s nice to see an f/f relationship that is already established and comfortable. It has flaws, but is fundamentally a source of comfort and happiness for both of them.

Camino’s everyday life is very different. She wants to be a doctor, and already has experience caring for the sick and dying as an apprentice. She is used to friends her age having children and possibly dying from it, because there isn’t adequate medical supplies and treatment. She goes to a private school paid for by her father, in the hopes of eventually going to the U.S. for university. After he passes, not only is she left orphaned, but she is incredibly vulnerable. Her school asks for tuition she doesn’t have, and she is being recruited into sex work by a man who was once paid by her father to leave her alone. Her options are running out, and she is willing to take a desperate risk to save herself.

Even the side characters are complex and interesting, even if we don’t see a lot of them. Yahaira’s mother and Camino’s aunt are mostly background characters, but we can see how their grief affects them, and the strength that it takes to continue onward and to take care of them as much as they can. This is primarily a story about grief, so it isn’t fast-moving. Instead, we stay with Yahaira and Camino as they try to process, and we sit with that discomfort.

From the premise, I knew that eventually the two half-sisters would have to meet, or at least become aware of each other, and that was the moment I was waiting for. Unfortunately, it came a lot later in than I was hoping for. They aren’t even aware of the other’s existence until the latter half of the book. I was excited to get to that point, but it felt a little bit rushed. I wanted to see the two of them establish a relationship and then see it change and mature. I wanted to see how their lives changed with each other in them.

This is a thoughtful, poignant story about grief, and I can see why Acevado is celebrated as a writer. I didn’t get the resolution I was hoping for from Yahaira and Camino’s relationship, but that’s a personal reaction, and it’s still one I would recommend.

Danika reviews How To Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Even before this book came out, I have been hearing 100% positive things about it. Lots of people whose opinions I respect have sung its praises, and with bi & lesbian YA readers, it’s widely accepted as a favourite. But despite these glowing reviews, I was reluctant to pick it up. Why? Honestly? Because I didn’t like the cover. It looked so bland! I know that’s a silly reason, but that’s why it took so long to reach the top of my TBR stack. And in fact, it’s probably only because I read it on my phone instead of picking up the physical copy that I even made the leap then. I’m happy to say that I was utterly mistaken in putting it off, and everyone else was completely in the right. I loved this book.

This book deftly deals with grief and unhealthy/abusive family dynamics. Grace’s father died when she was young, and since then, her mother hasn’t acted much like a mom. Maggie has been dragging Grace from one boyfriend’s house to another, and Grace is used to following her into bars and pulling her out of dangerous situations. She feels like it is her responsibility to watch after Maggie.

This is a horrible situation to be in as a teenager, and Grace is obviously suppressing a lot of anger and pain. She never knows what she’s coming home to. She’s constantly scared that Maggie has gone out drinking or ended up with a questionable guy. Trying to grow up quickly and hold it together for the both of them means something has to give. I appreciated was Grace as a character because she has deep friendships and cares about people, but she also lashes out in ways that are very believable. She wants to reach out, even as she feels that making connections is meaningless, that she is trapped in this situation. It makes her a complex but relatable character.

The relationships between characters are nuanced: Grace’s best friend and his mother are a solid source of support for her, but Luca’s mother and Maggie have a strained relationship that causes Grace to try to cover up for Maggie. In the meantime, Luca and his mom have taken in Eva (Grace’s love interest), who has recently lost her mother. Maggie takes Eva under her wing, causing Grace to agonize over whether she should tell Eva the whole truth about Maggie.

That’s a lot going on, and it’s only scratching the surface. Maggie and Grace are living with Maggie’s new boyfriend, who happens to be the father of Grace’s ex-boyfriend, meaning she’s stuck in the same house as the guy who publicly posted their suggestive text conversations after they broke up. Grace desperately wants to pursue a career as a pianist–her passion–but is afraid to leave Maggie alone, and the deadline for her life-altering audition is rapidly approaching.

The heart of the story, though, is between Maggie, Grace, and Eva. Grace cherishes the relationship she forms with Eva, where she feels like she can be herself, while resenting Eva for having a more positive relationship with Maggie than she does. The push-and-pull between Grace and all the people in her life leaves her in a situation that feels unwinnable. It’s heartbreaking to see how Maggie lets Grace down, over and over. Particularly because it’s so believable. Maggie is not a cartoonish villain, but she’s a terrible mother who puts her own child in danger and doesn’t even notice.

In case it isn’t obvious, I highly recommend this. I thought it was masterfully handled, and I was completely invested in Grace and Eva–individually and as a couple. My only complaint was that I thought Grace’s ex-boyfriend, Jay, got off the hook too easily for what he did. But overall, the treatment of abuse and grief layered with a bisexual (yes, using the word bisexual) love story and accompanied with a thoughtful examination of race and art (Eva is a black ballet dancer) all came together into a five star read for me, regardless of the cover.


Shira Glassman reviews How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake is the queer girl version of the classic trope of two lonely teens bonding over understanding each other’s parallel, if not similar, sadness. Having lost a lot of family within a relatively short span of years, there’s a part of me that became a Harry/Luna ‘shipper from the moment we saw them sharing loss in the kind of profound way neither does with the other kids, and that’s what I got from Grace and Eva in this book. Not that they’re mourning the same loss — Grace wishes for a sober, stable mother who cares about her as more than an extension of herself, and Eva’s reeling from her mother’s sudden death due to surgery complications.
But still, it’s the story of two young women, a pianist and a ballerina, whose shared emptiness creates a pull that draws them magnetically toward each other. They are healthy influences in each other’s lives, and it’s so good and affirming to see teen girls loving each other framed as “a healthy part.” In fact, Grace has had a super fucked up childhood and adolescence thanks to her mother, but her bisexuality is one of the few parts of her life that’s healthy and normal and hasn’t been ruined by the kind of parenting that drags the kid around from boyfriend’s house to boyfriend’s house until the new boyfriend catches you stealing again.
I will never get tired of this.
I’ll say it again: I’ll never get tired of this. I will never tire of framing a girl’s noticing of other girls “that way” as one of the ways to be a normal teen, as one of the ways to be a child, as one of the ways to be functioning as opposed to code language for someone being dysfunctional. Especially a bi character, because so many people have used that as a shortcut for how out of control we’ve let ourselves get.
Eva’s a lesbian and she’s awarded that innocence, too. We both need it, lesbians and bi girls alike.
Grace’s description of what it was like for her, as a bi girl who her ex-boyfriend “used to turn [her] into a puddle”, to crush on the friendly, alluring, straight lifeguard Natalie lined up exactly with what my straight-girl crushes were like at that age and–dammit–continue to be like. (Ladies, you are lovely.) It’s nice to be allowed to feel kinship with that moment, and be validated that yes, plenty of other girls who are still attracted to men can feel what we feel when that girl is with us, and that it’s okay to open up that path to all it has to offer. I also found an echo of my own past in Grace’s mom’s response in the past to when she came out. To respond to a declaration that someone likes girls with Well, sure, who doesn’t? is very, very familiar.
The main plot of the book isn’t just the romance, though, but Grace dealing with her mom, who’s the kind of person who steals from your piggybank to buy swag to throw you a birthday party with all her own favorite colors–on the wrong day. Given that I have the kind of mom who fled Irma two days before everyone else because she’s so careful and on-the-ball, this made for a fascinating read into a terrifying version of teen years when a minor is forced to parent her own parent. Blake does a wonderful job of showing the walls closing in, of the mindset that traps you into thinking that you can’t leave, you have to stay, because how else will she be safe? She needs you.
Except, no. That isn’t actually helping anyone. I was rooting for Grace the whole time and rest assured, the book delivers.
You can watch Grace teetering over the edge and pulling back over and over again in a kind of deftly unreliable narrator voice that reminds you that you’re listening to a teenage survivor who’s almost half brainwashed. She catches herself, for example, about to make assumptions about Eva based on her own mother and then hates that her mother is turning her into something “unfeeling and cold.”
I read it in one sitting with my cat lying on my chest–the prose and the chatty way the narrator talks to the reader carries you along in a swift current of plot and description. The characters and scenery are all pretty vivid and easy to picture. Also, I love this  book’s depiction of male-female platonic friendship, between Grace and her buddy Luca, with Luca’s adorable mom being the Adopted Mom foil for Grace’s own mother.
Emetophobia trigger on page 91 from walk-ons at a teenage party. Also, at one point the annoying teenage boy character (the ex-boyfriend from the puddle line) calls Eva “exotic” but it’s called out a few pages later and Eva is given a lot of space to discuss how it made her feel and why she doesn’t like it.
Shira Glassman is either a bisexual Jew or twelve tiny bisexual Jews in a trench coat; either way, she lives in north central Florida and plays violin when she’s not yelling “what are you EATING?!” at the cat. Her latest release is Knit One Girl Two, a fluffy romance between two Jewish girls bonding over fandom, making art, and dealing with the changes in their lives.

Tierney reviews How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Grace dreams of moving to New York for college and studying music–but she’s worried that her mom, Maggie, needs her​ stability too much for her to leave their life in small-town Maine: for as long as she can remember, since the death of her father when she was little, her mom has made impulsive decisions, and it’s been up to Grace to clean up the mess. This summer is no different–until Grace meets Eva, and begins to realize as they fall for each other that it’s OK for her to be happy.

How to Make a Wish is an absolutely gorgeous (and heart-wrenching, in all the best ways) depiction of young, queer love, teenage friendship, and the trials and tribulations of coming of age, experiencing loss, and making difficult decisions. The novel doesn’t hit a single wrong note: every step of the way it is beautifully-written and deeply touching.

Grace’s relationship with her mother should seem familiar to anyone who has been on the receiving end of parentification: your heart aches every time Grace is forced to act like the adult in her relationship with Maggie, every time she lets Maggie’s offenses slide, and you cheer when she finds her voice and is able to stand up for herself, even as you see how painful it is for her. It’s a tragically authentic depiction of the dynamics of a screwed-up parent-child relationship, and Grace’s journey feels moving and truthful.

Authentic relationships are one of the novel’s strengths–both the difficult relationships (like the one Grace has with Maggie) and the deep, genuine ones. Grace’s relationship with her best friend Luca is one of the latter. He is a steady, comforting presence in a life full of so much unknown and unexpected. Their relationship has its ups and downs -but in both its low moments and its high moments, it feels so right and so true. Luca’s family is the solid familial presence that her own mother cannot be for her – Luca’s mother, Emmy, especially, is such an excellent example of the kind of loving, encouraging adult teenagers need in their lives.

And finally, the love story: How to Make a Wish showcases so much more than just a love story – but it’s the love story that leaves you with bated breath as it unfolds, in anticipation of every stunningly poignant moment.  Grace and Eva’s burgeoning relationship helps anchor Grace’s life, and the novel. As with so much in the story, their relationship just rings so true–whether they are eating peanut butter together on the beach, pushing each other away as they clumsily try to deal with their pasts and hang-ups, or kissing in a tree after being chased by a dog.

Grace’s bisexuality is an important part of her story, and her identity is a grounding element of the novel. She refers to past boyfriends–and also to her first crush, a pool lifeguard named Natalie: she is unapologetically herself, and Luca’s unquestioning support for her is heartening. The solid foundation of her identity makes the development of her relationship with Eva all the sweeter, her own self-knowledge a lovely constant in all the upheaval of her family life, and all the unknowns of her future.

How to Make a Wish is a breathtakingly, heart-achingly beautiful YA novel–Grace’s story resonates on so many levels, and Herring Blake deftly covers so much emotional ground. This is a novel that both leaves you breathless as you whip from one emotion to the next and soothes your soul–don’t miss out.