American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi ZoboiAmerican Street by Ibi Zoboi
Published by HarperCollins on February 14, 2017
Pages: 336
Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws 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?

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

American Street by Ibi Zobi is destined to be a classic. The prose is rich in its simplicity and rife with magical realism.

I got lost in Fabiola’s story, drinking in the vodou references and the way Fabiola holds tightly to her faith, letting it guide her through some tough decisions. The references to Papa Legba and all the other lwa were fascinating. Zoboi dispels some common misconceptions about vodou. Basically, if you’ve seen it depicted on TV, it’s wrong. That’s something I always appreciate in a story. Make me learn something new, books!

Zoboi, an #ownvoices author, captures beauty in Detroit even when her characters imply that the city is hopeless. Through Fabiola’s eyes, Detroit is America’s promise to immigrants. You can take this a few different ways: that no matter where you land, America is a place of opportunity. Or, through the sometimes negative descriptions of Detroit from the Detroit-native characters, that America fails its promise not only to immigrants, but to people of color. Fabiola sees the United States, and by proxy, Detroit, as a land of opportunity, but as she spends more time on the corner of American Street and Joy Road, she makes some deals and learns some powerful lessons about race in America, costing her something she loves dearly. So I tend to think that both readings are equally accurate.

I don’t read a lot of magical realism, mostly because it’s hard to do well, but when I find an author who does it well, I find myself swept away in the magic and the symbolism and the meaning of it all. American Street did that to me. It was fascinating to see parallels between major characters and the different lwa described in the book. It brought a new dimension to the storytelling, making it feel both old and new at the same time.

Even though I love Fabiola, the secondary characters in American Street really shine. I especially love Fabiola’s cousins, Chantal, Primadonna (Donna), and Princess (Pri). Pri and Donna are twins, one with a different sexuality than the other, which was refreshing to read, especially in light of some of the prejudice the LGBTQIA+ community faces when it intersects with the black community. Her sexuality was no big deal (as it should be).

Verdict

American Street is a diverse #ownvoices book that belongs in every classroom and library across the country. Delving into topics like race, class, poverty, drug dealing, police brutality, and immigration, it is a classic deserving of a spot on the shelf next to Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street.

five-stars

© 2017, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.