An Author and Her Books, Elizabeth Acevedo

She writes about teens in a way that makes adults want to read her books

Oh, where do I begin to heap tons of praise on Elizabeth Acevedo? At the beginning with the MMD Book Club, where most things in my recent reading life begin. The Poet X was our monthly book club book pick for September 2020. I googled it and saw that it was a novel-in-verse story, and my heart sank. That sounded too much like poetry to me; I can’t understand it. I had tried to read her newest book, Clap When You Land when it was published and, after a few pages, gave it back to the library as I just couldn’t understand what I was reading.

Elizabeth Acevedo is a Dominican-American poet and novelist born and raised in NY City, the only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She has a BA in Performing Arts and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland and lives in Washington, DC, with her husband. She has written three full-length books, one collection of folkloric poems, has contributed a poem to a middle-grade anthology, and has won numerous awards and prizes; if that’s not enough, she is a National Poetry Slam Champion. And the best part of all of this for me is that she narrates her own books.

In our book club forum, one of the members mentioned that she had listened to The Poet X on audio and that the story came alive for her, so I decided to give it a try. Not only had I never listened to an audiobook before, I had never wanted to either. What a fantastic story, and the member was correct; the story came alive through her voice. By listening to it, I could now see Xiomora and feel her joy and pain. Xiomara pours her feelings into her journals about her parents, her conflicts about her church, her changing body, a forbidden boyfriend, all the while protecting her twin brother as he is also struggling. She joins the Slam Poetry club at school and keeps it secret from her parents that she enters a Slam Poetry contest. The book builds to a satisfying conclusion, and you want to just sit with it for a while to absorb everything you have just read. The audiobook is 3 1/2 hours long; the book is 365 pages.

With the Fire on High is my favorite of her three books, and that is because it’s not written as a novel-in-verse; it is straightforward prose. However, her words still seem like poetry, her descriptions are so vivid, and the characters are so alive. In this book, Emoni is a teenaged mother who dreams of being a chef. Her mother passed away; her father lives primarily in Puerto Rico. She is being raised by her grandmother, who also helps with Emoni’s daughter, Emma, whom she affectionately calls Baby Girl. She shares custody of Baby Girl with Tyronne, the father, and navigates his family and her responsibility to their daughter while also feeling her own dreams tugging at her. Emoni realizes her hard-earned dream and can travel to Spain to become a sous-chef and understands what her future can hold. There are so many themes and storylines running through this book, nothing I say could do it justice. You need to listen to it and savor it like you would good food, which there is plenty of throughout. The spirit and determination of this young woman makes my heart smile. The audiobook is 7 1/2 hours long; the book is 395 pages.

Clap When You Land is written in a novel-in-verse format and tells the story of two teenagers, one living in NY and the other living in the Dominican Republic. They share a father, and neither of the teens knows the other exists until the father dies in a plane crash after taking off in NY for the Dominican Republic. Camino lives in the DR, and Yahaira lives in NY; Yahaira discovers her father has another family in the DR, which is why he leaves NY every summer. Told in alternating location format until Yahaira goes to the DR, this book tells the story of each teenager’s life, how their lives are so different and what the father’s death means for each teenager. The sibling rivalry, distrust, connection, and family are what makes this story so good. Each of the girls’ standing in life, based on the father’s separate life with each of them, is the story's underlying theme and how each sees the world they live in. Acevedo narrates Yahaira, and Melania-Luisa Marte narrates Camino. Their voices are similar, but after listening for a few minutes, you learn to tell them apart to know which character is speaking. The audiobook is 5 1/2 hours long; the book is 432 pages.

If you haven’t been able to tell from my gushing above, I loved all three of these books. So much so that I ordered the hardcover versions of each of these for my library. I don’t have much room in my apartment, nor do I keep many books, but I wanted copies of all three as I know that someday I will try again to read the novels-in-verse. Now that I have listened to them, it might make reading them a little easier for me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give you some links to some of her poetry readings and interviews, so here they are:

Clap When You Land is being adapted into a TV series. Elizabeth is an executive producer and will also write the pilot episode; I can’t wait until it is released. All three of these books have made such a lasting impression on me. I’m not sure if it is the author, the story, or both, but they are books that I will never forget.

Have you read any of these books? Do you listen to audiobooks? I’d love to hear about audiobooks that you’ve listened to and really enjoyed. You can tell me about it in the comments below.

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