Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Who doesn't love a good coming of age story. American Street is exactly that, and then some!
American Street, the debut novel by Ibi Zoboi is very relevant to the current climate of today's culture. It delves into race, immigration, and class in the American system. Ibi Zoboi was inspired by her own upbringing as a young Haitian immigrant growing up in America for her first novel.
The story begins with a young lady named Fabiola Toussaint (what a name eh?), born in America but moved back to Haiti with her mother as an infant. They receive a chance to truly find and live 'the good life' une belle viea, when her immigrant mother is finally granted a visa to move to the U.S. They leave Port au Prince, Haiti and journey to America. Fabiola's mother is detained by U.S Immigration and Fabiola is allowed to live on American soil as she is an American citizen. Fabiola is alone and greeted by her raucous unpredictable cousins Princess, Primadonna & Chantal in a gritty Detroit, Michigan environment, which is all very new to a vulnerable and cautious Fabiola. Her three cousins, referred to in the book as the three bees, and frail but tough aunt, Matant Jo live in west side Detrioit on the (ironically named) corner of American Street and Joy road. Things are not as perfect as Fabiola envisioned in her new American life. Fabiola slowly begins to find her footing at this new strange world she's been thrown into and even begins to fall in love. Although she is beginning to somewhat like her new life, she still struggles with moulding her new self and staying true to her Haitian past as well as dealing with the fact that her mother is still detained. Fabiola realises that this American freedom comes with a price and is met at a crossroads and has to make difficult decisions that will affect her mother's and her new future in this supposedly American 'good life'.
Ibi Zoboi is an amazing writer. This book was very easy to read and flowed effortlessly. Even though this novel is a Young Adult book, it really didn't feel like I was reading a typical teen novel. It felt very true to the current social climate that we are in, and was very relate-able if you are an immigrant, or know, or come from a family of immigrants. I liked how Ibi Zoboi used her Haitian roots and kept the character of Fabiola true to herself and her upbringing, by using the vodou culture and almost mystical magical realism too. It helped shape the character of Fabiola very well but also showed her growth in this new foreign land. I also liked how ghetto the talk was in the book, it was real and I actually found the book pretty funny at times! Which was a plus. It had an interesting message too, is the American dream all it's cracked out to be? Do you truly get to experience this 'freedom' your always hearing about? It was interesting because Fabiola moved from an under privileged country to a legit ghetto in Detroit, Michigan. So you really see her battling with this concept, moving from one ghetto to the another. Although, she does see more opportunities in her new life than if she were to still be in Haiti. That's the big difference, more opportunities and a better life. Interesting to think about. Ibi Zoboi went through a very similar upbringing when she herself moved from Haiti to a then very ghetto Bushwick, Brooklyn (not the trendy gentrified version we have right now) at a young age. She struggled to fit in and battled with her past life, but also very much understood the pull of immigration and the hope of a better and maybe happier life.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book a lot and I found myself wanting to read more and more as the chapters went on. My good friend who lent me this book described it as 'a mixture between Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones', Nicole, you were right. It's exactly that. Plenty of drama, race & family dynamics. I would recommend this book if your craving an easy to read, good, heartfelt and current story of the times we live in.