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?
♥ Quick Thoughts and Rating: Actual rating of 3.5 stars! Packed with emotion and a vivid cast of characters, American Street captured the true voice of young American teens everywhere, both the ones born and raised in the U.S. and others who have immigrated here. With honest ethnic, cultural, and LGBTQIAP+ representation, Zoboi tackled the “diversity in lit” and “own voices” challenges with a sincere passion that burned clearly across the pages.
♥ Review: I’m having a difficult go of trying to capture everything this book embodies in a single quick review. This author chose to tackle a lot of heavy-hitting topics in this one book. There was the smoke and mirrors of the “American Dream,” and how there are sacrifices to be made to survive no matter what part of the world you call home. Other elements of this book that the author explored was immigration, poverty, first loves, teen domestic violence, organized crime and drugs, unyielding familial ties, religion, racial division, police brutality, strong Haitian cultural influences, and moments of bravery. While a majority of these subplots felt genuine and integral to whole of the story–a tale of a teen girl moving to America and being surrounded by a family she’s only met through the phone, letters, and the internet, all while missing her mother who is being detained and possibly deported for violating a previous visa a decade plus before–after a while it felt like the threads were becoming a little frayed around the edges. I certainly thought there was a beauty in the honesty of exactly how this novel was portrayed, but I can’t help but wonder that if some of these storylines hadn’t been included and the smaller bits would have been given stronger focus and more attention like they deserved, if maybe the book wouldn’t have been stronger as a whole that way. That said, I can certainly appreciate all the elements Zoboi covered and her need to include them, as well as the overall dynamic it brought to the book.
Probably the strongest aspect of this novel is the characters. The author really dove down deep into the urban teen psyche and transferred it so completely to the page. I really enjoyed our heroine, Fabiola, and her cousins as well as the presence of other secondary cast members. There were times were I felt like some of those secondary characters could have been fleshed out a little more, especially in Imani and Dray’s case, but overall, I felt like I really knew who all of the characters were in the book. I also really appreciated that for better or worse, these characters were very much who they were one hundred percent of the time. There wasn’t any wish-washiness in their personalities and if they made bad decisions, they totally owned it for the crap decision that it was. I would also like to note in this section that the use of profanity and drugs is frequent in this book. Sometimes it felt warranted because the author allowed the characters to speak their minds freely in the way the would actually talk, but I can’t deny that the mom in me totally flinched a few times even though I have a rather foul mouth myself.
Okay, so now I’m going to dive in to the romance of this novel. There is one and it was completely cute, even if it there was a whole lot insta-love in this scenario. It was also kind of weird, though, for reasons I can’t exactly put my finger on. I felt like it burned so hot and cold and cold and hot. I can understand that outside factors can influence the way a relationship develops, but I wasn’t exactly a fan of the whiplash I felt like I was getting from their relationship. Just when I felt like I was getting ready to settle into the quick, adorable love that was blossoming between them, real life would yank them back apart. Sigh.
Another factor that I really enjoyed about this book was the magical realism. I really respected that even though Fabiola was American-born, she held fast to the culture and religion and all the traditions she’d grown up around in Haiti. Because of this, I was able to learn about Haitian Vodou and their religious pillars, lwas, who were kind of like spiritual guides or saints. Fabiola felt their presence around her in Detroit and they played a major role in influencing the decisions she made as she tried to traverse this new place without her mother. I always love learning new things, so I liked that the author included this.
Lastly, there’s the ending, which I don’t think I’m a fan of the more and more I think about it. I figure eventually I’ll come to a place where I will respect that it had to end the way it did, but I’m not at that place right now. I can’t go into too much detail because it’s definitely spoilery, but I will say that it felt rushed and it completely caught me off-guard. Then after this crazy-intense thing happened that led to this other explosive thing happening, once that part was over, it all felt sort of swept under the rug. The conclusion of the book left me in a weird place where it just didn’t feel final, like I was missing one more chapter or something. I won’t lie, this was probably the biggest reason for the drop in my rating, but I decided to go ahead and round up to four stars because I appreciated the diverse groups the author represented in her book and her writing was pretty solid.
♥ Teaser Quote: Every time Fabiola thought of her mother, I could feel the ache in my bones because of Ms. Zoboi’s writing. The following teaser is from a letter from Fabiola to her mom, penned in her mind.
“If you had told me to go alone, you knew that I would never agree to it. But this is how you raised me, Manman. You raised me to be like another part of you–another arm or leg. Even as you kept telling me that I’m becoming a woman, you never let me go out into the world to be free. Or maybe I took the place of the sister you left behind. You raised me like this, so I cannot go on with my own life without you. You can’t go back to Haiti. You have to come to this side because this new family of mine is both familiar and strange–just like how I am American by birth and Haitian by blood, bones, and tears. Familiar and strange.”
–quote taken from the eARC of American Street at 72%
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|Angst Me So Good|
♥ Rec It? Maybe? If you’re a reader that likes everything tied up all nice and neat in the end, this one might not be for you. However, if you’re willing to hurt and can walk away from a book with a deeper appreciation for the message it contains and not hold grudges because not everyone gets their HEA, then I think you should read this. Either way, I think Zoboi is a strong voice in YA and I’ll definitely look for her next book.
♥ A very special thanks to Balzer + Bray and Edelweiss for providing me with an advanced copy of this title.
*Disclaimer: An e-copy of this title was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. However, that did not influence this review in any way. All thoughts, quotes, and opinions will be of this version and not of the published edition.
Full of giggles, flails, snark and Southern endearments. Avid Reader. Lover of swoony boys, kickass heroines, yummy kissing scenes, and pretty prose.
I like to draw hearts in the sky (eternal optimist) and wish on stars (forever dreamer). Documentaries, sweet tea, sleep, and brightly colored knee-socks are a few of my favorite things. ♥
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