American Street is an evocative and powerful coming-of-age story perfect for fans of Everything, Everything, Bone Gap, and All American Boys.
In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.
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 US 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?
"Narrator Robin Miles glides silkily through Haitian Creole, Detroit street talk, and standard American English, infusing the dialogue with authentic-sounding accents and age-appropriate sass and bravado.... Miles taps into each character's unique struggle to balance survival with tough choices, infusing her near-flawless performance with nuanced drama. Listeners will long remember Fabiola's transformative journey." (AudioFile)
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A lot to unpack
American Street is a lot to unpack. There were so many topics tackled in this book, it felt like a lot to wrap my head around, but if any book could juggle it, this one did it well enough where I wasn't extremely overwhelmed.
Fabiola, the main character, is forced to deal with a ton of self discovery and issues when her mother is detained by immigration. She's forced to live with her relatives who while she knows them, there are many cultural differences between them. While Fabiola was born in the US, she was raised in Haiti. All her cousins are American raised, and living in a small urban area in Detroit, a lot of culture clashed between them( btw there was alot of background inclusion, Black Muslim characters, queer Black characters, traditional Vodou within the text without being demonized).
I really felt for Fabiola. She spent a lot of the book knowing how she would help her mother become a citizen when approached by law enforcement to rat out a drug dealer. The conflict that came with finding out who the "real" dealer was, was so heart breaking and I wasn't sure she'd ever reunite with her mother.
What I liked about this story was how Haitian people meshed with African-American folk and how Blackness wasn't a monolith. A lot of people are confused by Haiti, and as an fellow Afro-Latinx person, I dont feel like there are enough contemporary books with Haitian main characters about young people, especially living in the US.
Immigration is often told from a brown perspective, often Central/South America folk who don't identify as black. This story reminds us that immigration doesn't have a specific face, the journey to a better life is a race-less desire.
For lack of better way to describe Fabiola, her foreign-ness brought that out more ways than if she had been socialized and raised in the US. It shared AAVE with the world that I'm almost not comfortable the world seeing, as a Black-Latinx, I'm often judged for using it, but the world loves it as long as Black folk aren't the face of it. While it's culturally specific, it opens a door a lot of non-Black people refuse to go through or learn about.
Fabiola experienced love, friendship, betrayal, fear, and sacrifice, and all that was in addition to the problems she had to face figuring out how she'd find a way to help her mother. I'm trying to be as spoiler free as possible, but I almost gave it a four because something really tragic happened and I couldn't help feeling resentful since it's so rarely celebrated in mainstream ya where black young couples(especially inter-cultural ones) are a focal point. And that slap in the face, especially since it ended in tragedy had me in my feelings. It was like Fabiola couldn't have anyone without losing them, whether temporary or permanently.
It requires a trigger warning to be honest. With so many black kids dying in the media, I wish there'd just been something that prepared me for it, because now I'm too sad to type XD
It's mostly told from Fabiola's POV, but there are occasions where the POV delves into other minor characters, made more obvious since I was listening to the audiobook. I think there are great things about this book, and while the things I didn't connect to were minor, I look forward to more Afro-Latinx representation in YA because there's so few of it, especially dark skinned heroines.
- V. Clarke