Book Review: American Street
By: Ibi Zoboi
Published By: Balzer & Bray
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Page Count: 336
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Contemporary
Fabiola Toussaint has dreamed of the promise of America since she was a little girl. As a US citizen, she imagines leaving behind Haiti for a life with her cousins and aunt. The money they send to her and her mother each month keeps them afloat. Fabiola has attended the best schools in Port-au-Prince, but she is looking forward to moving to Detroit, Michigan to be with her family. When Fabiola and her mother arrive in New York City, Fabiola is sent on her way to Detroit, while her mother is detained. It seems that her mother may not be allowed admittance into the US because she overstayed her last visa in order for Fabiola to be born on US soil.
Fabiola must adapt to life in Detroit without her mother to guide her. When she arrives she meets her cousins who are known throughout the neighborhood as "The Three Bees". Chantal, the oldest, has vague memories of Haiti, her birth country, but has been in the US so long that she doesn't retain her accent or much of her cultural heritage. She is a college student who prefers books over romantic entanglements and is always looking out for her sisters. She immediately takes Fabiola under her wing. Donna and Pri, the twins, are a bit rougher around the edges. Donna is everything glitz and glamor while Pri wears baggy clothes and attempts to hide everything about herself that could be considered feminine. Despite the differences in the sisters, they have a fierce loyalty to each other and their mother, Jo. Fabiola longs to enter the fold, but isn't sure she wants to leave her Haitian roots behind to join this American family.
The house on the corner of American Street and Joy Road isn't exactly what Fabiola was expecting, but she soon learns to find her niche. The longer she stays, the more worried she becomes about her mother's situation. Fabiola decides she must find a way to get her mother to Detroit. As she seeks a way to solve her problems she is drawn into the dangerous side of Detroit, the bliss of first love, and the pain of broken dreams.
A hint of magical realism creeps into the narrative from time to time with Fabiola's religious culture. Her beloved saints and lwas guide her path. I am largely ignorant of Vodou and other elements of Haitian culture, but Fabiola makes me want to learn more. The food she describes also sounds divine; I must try Haitian cuisine soon.
Not only do you get a strong sense of the experiences of a Haitian immigrant from American Street, but there are also important commentaries on life in America that run throughout the novel. I have never been to Detroit, but I have long heard of the problems that plague the city. Fabiola's view of Detroit calls attention to issues such as violence, drugs, organized crime, and police activity. I could have done without some of the intense language in the novel, but I quickly learned to accept that I couldn't place my behavior norms on these characters and their situations.
I also loved the segments of the novel that were the stories of the people and the house. These elements had an oral story tradition about them. They also provided more insight into the other characters since Fabiola's point of view drove the rest of the novel.
Haunting and beautifully written, American Street is a novel not soon forgotten that captures the essence of the pitfalls of the American dream. Fabiola has the heart of a lion and she inspires me to a better person who fights against injustice. This novel forced me to look beyond the walls of my own experiences and culture.
One Last Gripe: This isn't a true gripe, but those last few chapters were rough.
Favorite Things About This Book: I loved the diverse characters and learning about Haitian culture
First Sentence: If only I could break the glass separating me and Manman with my thoughts alone.
Favorite Character: Fabiola
Least Favorite Character: Dray
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?