American Street by Ibi Zoboi is one of those books that has spent the better part of the year on my to-read list, but for whatever reason I kept passing over it. I am excited to finally read it and be able to talk about this different take on the immigrant experience as young Fabiola attempts to find her own way on the streets of Detroit.
The Situation: The time has finally come for Fabiola Toussaint and her mother to make the move from Port-au-Prince, Haiti to Detroit, Michigan. It is in Detroit that they will join Fabiola's Aunt Jo and her three daughters, Chantal, Primadonna (Donna), and Princess (Pri). But plans immediately get interrupted when Fabiola's mother is held up at JFK airport in New York, while she is sent ahead to Detroit. The family will later learn that not only did Fabiola's mother not make another flight out of New York, but she is also currently being held in an immigration detention center for overstaying her visa on a previous visit. Now Fabiola must face harsh cold weather, strange food, loud family members, and a new school all without her mother beside her. It is only with Aunt Jo's assurance that things will be worked out that she is able to continue forward.
The Problem: Time moves on for Fabiola without any indication that her mother's situation will be resolved. And while her new life comes with many distractions, not all of them are welcomed, especially when it comes to Donna's tumultuous relationship with Dray, and older boy from the neighborhood. While knowing Dray may also come with knowing Kasim, a much kinder boy who takes a liking to Fabiola, she still recognizes that Dray is trouble and it would be better if he weren't in their lives. Then an offer presents itself that could potentially solve a couple of problems for the family, including her mother's immigration issues, but this offer may come with its own problems. The longer Fabiola stays in America, the more she learns that obtaining "the good life" may come at an extremely high cost.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction book told from the perspective of Haitian-born Fabiola Toussaint. For years, her Aunt Jo has been sending money to her sister, Fabiola's mother, so that the two of them could leave Haiti and join her and her daughters in Detroit, Michigan. So not only is this book about the immigrant experience, but also about what it is like for a young girl living in one of the toughest neighborhoods in one of America's toughest cities. From the beginning, Fabiola is able to draw comparisons from life in Port-au-Prince to life in Detroit. In both places she must watch herself, protect herself, always be aware of her surroundings, make sure people know she is not someone they can easily mess with, and draw on her faith in Voodoo to give her strength. There are many scenes with people attempting to teach her how to say common words and phrases, while simultaneously laughing at her accent while she tries to do so. But there are also many scenes where Fabiola takes care of herself, and still other scenes where she looks out for other people. This book is just as much about immigration as it is about the cycle in which many people find themselves caught when it seems there is no other way.
My Verdict: If there is one fault with this book, it is that maybe it tries to do too much in such a short length. Fabiola's stories about her mother and life back in Haiti, and their dream to ultimately come to America work great. Add in her problems getting used to living with a larger and louder family in Detroit, and it becomes an interesting take on the immigrant story. And then there are drug dealers, abusive boyfriends, Aunt Jo and her mysterious illness, her three cousins that apparently no one messes with, as well as an entire cast of incredibly well thought-out characters, and things start to get a little muddled while also feeling rushed. One things is for certain: The book is never boring, and is almost sure to hold any one's attention. Maybe if it were a little bit longer, all of the different elements could have more space to work themselves out.
Favorite Moment: When Fabiola makes a decision to stand up for her friend, even if it means she has to stand against her cousins.
Favorite Character: While Chantal seems to be the one of Aunt Jo's cousins that is the most put together (and she is), she also has her own issues, and has her own way of dealing with life on the west side of Detroit.
Recommended Reading: Both The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Dear Martin by Nic Stone would be fantastic follow-ups.