What would you do for fam?
American Street is the #OwnVoices debut novel by Ibi Zaboi and it packs a punch. This is not a happy story; however, it was very powerful and before I get to my thoughts, I want to recommend this as a solid read with the following warnings.
TW: drugs, domestic violence, police brutality
American Street follows Fabiola, a Haitian teenager, moving to Detroit with her mother. While going through immigration, Fabiola’s mother is detained, but she sends Fabiola on her next flight to Detroit. There, Fabiola meets her three cousins, Chantal, Primadonna (Donna), and Princess (Pri) and her Aunt Jo. From the get go, I felt like Fabiola’s family in Detroit were well known and well connected. I had my suspicions, but I wasn’t about to make any conclusion. A lot of the story focuses on Fabiola’s transition and acclamation to the United States and Detroit, MI in particular. While there are many cultural differences, Fabiola is also able to find many similarities between Detroit and Port-au-Prince. While caught up in transitioning to life in the United States, Fabiola (now known as Fabulous to many in Detroit) is still determined to get her mother into the country. When everyone else gives up, she has a renewed self-determination to achieve that goal. Then out of the blue, a detective approaches Fabiola with a proposition. The detective offers her to help her mother cross over to the United States… if Fabiola is willing to snitch on Donna’s boyfriend Dray.
The tension and question of loyalty and family come up fast and often. Fabiola’s cousins have each other’s backs and want to bring her into the fold as ‘The Fourth B.” But Fabiola needs to decide fast whether or not to throw Dray under the bus in order to help her mother. Ultimately, she decides to snitch on Dray which leads to a whole lot of trouble. The themes of family over everything resonates with me… but what about when it’s one piece of family verses another piece of family? Dray isn’t family, but… with Donna in the mix, Fabiola is a bit hesitant at first. But Fabiola’s loyalty to her mother wins out. As the story goes on, Fabiola gets entangled in a situation that was much deeper than she originally thought.
Another theme the story focuses a lot on is the myth of the American Dream. So much so, when I first started to write this review, I titled it “Book Review: American Dream” I mean… Fabiola moves to a house of the corner of American Street and Joy Street. How fitting is that? It seems only fitting to talk about (many times) the unattainable American Dream for immigrants and people of color. I think both Fabiola and her mother thought of the United States as a place to thrive and succeed. She doesn’t realize the harsh realities of the United States and race until she is thrown into Detroit. And the something as simple as the street names capture it perfectly. Without spoiling the stories, Ibi Zaboi manages to address the American Dream myth, stereotypes of the black community in Detroit, the intersections of socioeconomic status and race, selling drugs to survive, and a bit on police brutality.
I thought the incorporation of Fabiola’s spiritual and religious beliefs was done very well. Not only did this illustrate Fabiola’s struggle with assimilating the US culture, but provided the spark of hope and drive she needed to get through all the issues she faced. This book is tagged as magical realism on Goodreads and I think it is because of the incorporation of Papa Legba and the other deities Fabiola prays to. I find this to be less magical realism and more about Fabiola’s spiritual identity. Spirituality and religion can be a huge influence on a young adult and I was very happy to see the her identity shared in the story.
The ending was so bittersweet. I cannot say anything more else I will spoil the story, but it left me feeling a bit empty. Empty in the sense that Fabiola had to sacrifice for her family and had no other choice but to sacrifice. I do not want to sound too negative here because this book is also about resilience, the power of family, and finding one’s way in a new country. As I mentioned in the beginning, this book gets a high recommendation from me. Another fantastic #OwnVoices debut novel!
Final Rating: 4.4/5