American Street - Ibi Zoboi

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?

Ibi Zoboi's debut novel is stunning. Seriously. Sometimes it's easy to point out a debut work, but Zoboi's work is not easy to point out as such, and that makes it even more incredible!

Fabiolo Toussaint and her mother are on their way to the USA when immigration officers step in and make things difficult. Fabiola's mother is taken away and Fabiola is sent along to her aunt and cousins alone, scared, and frustrated. She continues to search for ways of getting her mother out of the detention facility in New Jersey, wondering why her aunt doesn't seem to be doing anything to help. Her cousins help her integrate somewhat into her new school environment, but Fabiola soon realizes that her cousins have a lot more going on than meets the eye.

After a few days, she starts meeting a cast of rather intriguing characters, including Donna's abusive boyfriend, another young man who she may or may not want to date, and a detective who believes that the family or someone they know might be involved in the selling of drugs that led to the death of a young woman at a party earlier in the year. Fabiola begins concocting her own plan to help the detective and in so doing, help her mother back at her side. Unfortunately, the plan has a lot more consequences than she figured there would be.

Zoboi's writing is sharp and raw, and her characters are compelling. There is a layer of suspense to the plot that keeps readers guessing while they also have the opportunity to experience a Fabiola's immigrant narrative. Zoboi's dialogue is rhythmic, feeling sometimes poetic and at other times just brutally honest. Fabiola's innocence about American customs and some of the English slang leads to moments of humour as well as sympathy. In the end, Fabiola's story is illuminating, giving young readers a necessary glimpse into the head and heart of a young woman struggling to come to terms with an entirely new reality.

Perhaps the only thing that I feel is somewhat troublesome, is the ending, which feels a bit rushed. I wanted to know a bit more about how things were sorted out and how the characters would deal with some of the more brutal and violent aspects of the story. But that being said, this is a beautiful debut and one that I hope many young people have a chance to read. There's loss and love, family and fighting, LGBT content, and a captivating examination of cultural difference and changes that can occur through the process of immigrating to a new county.


(NOTE: This review is from and Advance Reader's Copy - Out Feb. 14, 2017)


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