American Street by Ibi Zoboi (2017)
Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
Page Length: 336 pages (hardcover edition)
On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.
But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.
Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream? (description from Goodreads)
American Street is a YA novel about a teenage girl named Fabiola who has left her life in Haiti to pursue a better life in America. While she easily passes through customs, her mother is detained in New York where she’s face with deportation and Fabiola is forced to leave her behind. She tries to adjust to her new home without her mother and moves in with her aunt and three cousins: Princess, Chantal and Donna. Immediately she experiences culture shock as she takes in her new surroundings and tries to navigate life the best way she knows how.
As someone who has been born and raised in Detroit, I was also excited to read this novel because of its setting. From the first page I could immediately recognize a lot of the locations mentioned. Zoboi definitely did her research on the area. I enjoyed the variety of characters and the overall theme of immigration and culture clash, with a coming of age narrative woven into the story.
All three of Fabiola’s cousins have such stark differences. Donna wears lavish clothes which matches with her loud personality, but seems very insecure deep down. Princess is the tough one who will defend any of her siblings in a fight. Chantal is the “mom” of the group she has good grades, is a good student, and is always striving for the highest achievement. Readers get to see these characters and others personal narratives with written letters set in-between the chapters. tI gave you a deeper look into their thoughts and feelings.
The story has some romance in it, but I appreciated that the entire plot is not consumed by it. The book focuses more on the bonds of family. I could definitely relate to Fabiola’s struggle to navigate life and find your place all while being a completely new surrounding. It’s scary and it makes you feel anxious, but you strive to put on a brave face for other and yourself (in order to keep it all together).
This book was engaging the whole way through. It weaves a powerful narrative about race, poverty, and other topics. The story is very raw and the characters felt realistic. Zoboi is a wonderful writer and this book felt like part poetry and part narrative. Also there was some magical realism thrown in that I thought was very fitting to the plot.
Zoboi draws Fabiola from her own experiences of leaving Haiti, coming to America, and trying to stick to her roots while also trying to identify as an American. I wish to read more from her in the future. I haven’t read many Haitian authors besides Zoboi and my favorite Edwidge Danticat. If you have any other recommendations for Haitian authors please send me some suggestions.
*Trigger warnings for abuse and violence.
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