Fiction · New Title Tuesday · Reader's Advisory

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

In full disclosure, I listened to the audiobook of today’s New Title Tuesday recommendation: American Street by Ibi Zoboi.  I was immediately drawn to not only the immigrant experience narrated in the Creole dialect, but I enjoyed learning more about the main character’s religious and cultural influences through this highly compelling protagonist.

Publisher SummaryAmerican Street is an evocative and powerful coming-of-age
story perfect for fans of Everything, EverythingBone Gap; and All American Boys. In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draamerican-streetws 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 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?

American Street by Ibi Zoboi is, as the publisher summary states, lyrically written.  For example, Fabiola describes her twin cousins upon meeting them in person:

“Princess and Primadonna, or Pri and Donna now-my two cousins.  Les Marassa Jueaux, who are as different as hot pepper and honey.  Their faces are mirrors of each other, but their bodies are opposites-one tall and skinny and the other short and chunky-as if Princess ruled their mother’s worm and Primadonna was an underfed peasant.”

Zoboi’s descriptions provide the reader more than just physical attributes.  In addition, the author allows Fabiola to be more than a pitiable victim of circumstance.  She’s a character easy to love and root for because of her strong moral compass and youthful promise.  Fabiola is not naive, simply young and asked to immediately adjust to the foreign school, local idioms, and urban culture that is no rougher than Port-au-Prince, just lonelier.

As Ana Grillo wrote in her review for booksmugglers.com, “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.”

While American Street is listed as a young adult book, I think it is best for socially mature teen readers (possibly as young as grade 9 and up.)  I also recommend this book for adults since the label of Young Adult might discourage adult readers.   To paraphrase Duke Ellington, there are two kinds of books, “good and the other kind.”

Choose wisely!

Happy Reading, Susan C.

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