8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Title: American Street

Author: Ibi Zoboi

Genre: Contemporary YA, Magical Realism

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Hardcover: 336 Pages

AmericanStreet_wBlurb

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?

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: eARC from the Publisher via NetGalley

Format (e- or p-): ebook

Review

American Street follows Fabiola Toussaint, starting with the day she and her mother land in New Jersey, to immigrate to the United States from Haiti to stay with their family in Detroit- Fabiola herself is an American citizen, born in the US, raised in Haiti – when her mother is detained at the airport and Fabiola needs to carry on all by herself.

In Detroit, Fabiola is greeted by her aunt Jo and her American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess. She is expected to integrate immediately: her aunt declares she shouldn’t speak creole (even if her own words are peppered with Creole words and accent), school starts the next day and no one, no one will tell her what’s going to happen to her mother. If that wasn’t enough, it seems that her aunt and cousins are involved in suspicious activities, a police officer approaches her with an offer she can’t refuse (anything to release her mother into the US) and she starts to fall in love with a cute guy name Kasim.

From the first pages, this story carries a powerful punch. From Fabiola’s desperate moments of utter powerlessness when she can’t do anything to help her mother or herself at the airport, to feeling utterly alone in her experience just as much as she needs to handle life with a new family she barely knew. From adapting to life in America but trying to keep her Haitian roots, to falling in love whilst feeling guilt for having happy feelings while her mother is still away.

The thing is: she might be living in the corner of American Street and Joy Road, but Fabiola realises that American Joy, the thing she desires the most, might be within her grasp but at a cost.

And this is only touching the surface of American Street because this book is as complex as it is touching. It’s a book that contrasts the immigrant experience with the life left behind, without making one or the other the superior one. It’s a book that shows how sometimes the American dream is not as easy, or happy as one had hoped. Life in Detroit’s West Side is not a piece a cake – and this part of the immigrant experience, of the Black experience (and often in this book, the two coincide) the one that built America but was effectively left behind, trampled by progress and a hostile world, is not sugar coated. It’s a story that addresses poverty, desperation, violence, drug dealing, police abuse of power, just as it puts these in context with the building of communities, family, education, love. Each of Fabiola’s cousins are deftly written, fierce in their own particular ways.

I loved the fact that the story is incredibly female-centred, focused on the experiences of immigrant, black, queer women and dealing with misogyny, abuse, slut-shaming, self-worth and more. Fabiola’s family in the Detroit – her aunt and her cousins – have created a life of their own in a way I have not read before in YA; the roles they play here are often played exclusively by men and it’s a breath of fresh air to see a story that places the agency and the power – as well as the corruption and the faults – in the hands of women. But what I loved the most about it, was Fabiola’s faith, brought over from Haiti, the way that her belief is an intrinsic part of her, shaping the way she not only interacts with others but also sees the world. There is an element of magical realism here too, which I tend to dislike as it can detract from the narrative, but in American Street, that strand is just another beautifully written side to this story.

This is a story with many threads, told in a beautiful voice, with the type of rich, sprouting storytelling that is deeply affecting. It’s not exactly a happy story but it’s a hopeful one, a beautiful one, a great one.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

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