Title: American Street
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: February 14th 2017
Ibi Zoboi delivers a truly emotional story in her debut novel, American Street. Though born in America, Fabiola Toussaint has only known one home–Haiti. Upon entering the U.S., Fabiola’s mother is detained by immigration and Fabiola is sent ahead to her aunt and cousins in Detroit. Desperate to get her mother back and struggling to adjust to this new world, Fabiola learns that America is not everything it’s promised to be. She finds herself in morally ambiguous situations that might cost her the only good things she has found since coming to America. Stuck between two impossible choices, Fabiola must decide how far she is willing to go to be reunited with her mother.
Fabiola spends the first few months in America pulled in different directions. Her cousins all have different ideas on how she can adjust to this new land while Fabiola tries to hold on to both her language and religion, both foreign and strange to outsiders. America demands a lot from those who immigrate to the country. A common theme throughout the novel is how people and America itself talk out of both sides of their mouths. Ideally, American is a melting pot, but in reality assimilation is necessary. The Creole language is part of Fabiola’s cultural identity and like her aunt before her, there is tremendous pressure for her to shed this part of who she is in order to fit in and feel more accepted. This new country comes with new rules for how to maneuver through the world and while there are aspects that Fabiola has encountered before, the line between right and wrong becomes more and more blurred as the story goes on.
Family is the most important aspect of Fabiola’s story. The absence of her mother is a weight she continually carries around. Any happiness she feels getting to know her cousins or falling in love for the first time is counterbalanced with the hole in her heart left behind by her mother. Though it is only briefly touched on, the possibility that Fabiola’s mother knew what would happen after the two of them entered the U.S. is something I continue to wonder about. We are not given a definitive answer, but I believe Fabiola’s mother isn’t a stranger to sacrifice and if she believed telling her daughter they were both meant to start over in America was the only way to get her to leave Haiti, I believe she would have done it. Fabiola’s loyalty to her family is tested throughout the novel. She loves her aunt and cousins, but they don’t always make good decisions. She wants to protect them, but this isn’t always easy when they don’t want her protection or when other people with more power than her can easily throw a wrench in her plans.
I do wish we could have spent more time individually with Fabiola’s cousins Chantel, Primadonna, and Princess, but I still think Zoboi did a good enough job defining who they are individually. A nice touch were the different character-driven sections sprinkled throughout the book that gave readers a little more insight into minor characters’ stories. With an engaging protagonist and an heart-stopping ending, American Street is a debut not to be missed.