AMERICAN STREET | Ibi Zoboi
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
“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?”
I listened to the audiobook version and I’m so happy that I did because the narrator was fantastic. Her voicing for all the characters was distinctive and compelling.
Fabiola’s character was wonderful, despite how taxing her thought process could be or how naive she was in some aspects. She grew in many ways but maintained the core of her personality, which was caring, curious, and determined.
My favorite part of the book was the inclusion of Haitian culture, religion (Voodoo), and language (Creole). These elements allowed Fabiola and her situation to feel unique and authentic to not just her, but to the people she represents.
While I was a huge fan of Fabiola’s character and the author’s valiant endeavor to paint the picture of Haitian immigration and assimilation, there were some other things that didn’t sit well with me.
I wasn’t so keen on Fabiola’s cousins, Pri, Chantal, and Donna. It was hard to decide whether or not I even liked them. They were frustrating personalities that failed to experience any noticeable transformations by the end. And I didn’t particularly like the way they treated Fabiola. They made some great points here and there and helped to dissolve some of Fabiola’s naivete, but other than that they were actually annoying.
On another note, the romance between Fabiola and Kasim was far too accelerated and not very believable. It’s hard to get invested in such a quick-paced romance. At least Kasim was kind and their relationship was mostly sweet. The other relationship in the book is atrocious.
Donna and Dre’s icy/hot romance is one that should not be idolized or copied, and the author consistently points this out. However, some of her language and secondary characters (like Kasim) allow some room for interpretation. Depending on how one reads the book, it can seem obvious that the author rejects abusive relationships and wants to bring attention to them by having some characters normalize the situation while others outright reject the relationship (a realistic scenario); OR it can seem as if the author is attempting to normalize those relationships in general. I firmly believe the former. A bit more resistance in Fabiola and her family could have bolstered the argument a bit though.
The author doesn’t just touch on immigration, assimilation, and family separation. As mentioned, she also explores abusive relationships. But that’s not all. She also touches on bullying, gangs, criminal activity, drugs, addiction, street violence, and police brutality. At some point, it all feels a bit too much. The story would have felt more cohesive if the focus remained on Fabiola and the loss of her mother to immigration restrictions and detainment/deportation. All the other issues brought up afterward just seem to clog the story and divert attention away from this one very serious issue.
There are great messages embedded in American Street. There is much to be gained from reading this and so much to discuss afterward. However, the story and its bittersweet ending could have been much more potent with a clearer focus.