Book Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

30256109The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun.

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?

Honestly, I have no clue exactly how quickly I flew through this, but, folks, it was a matter of hours. I was just so engrossed by this book. The characters, the setting, the incorporation of Haitian culture, the almost-magical realism. It was just so rich and evocative and also it broke me, so that was nice. I like being a puddle of feelings.

I loved all the characters in this book. They’re all nuanced and complex and they all change really naturally as the story progresses. Our main character, Fabiola, is not some silhouette for the reader to insert themselves into. She’s loving, compassionate, afraid, brave, determined. And her cousins, the Three Bees, are all really well developed. At first, it feels like they fit into these stereotypes (brains, brawn, beauty), but Ibi Zoboi fleshes them out. Also, there was a real focus on family on this book. And not the sort of focus where everyone goes, oh, family, it’s so important to me , but never does anything to show it. It’s this really realistic, honest portrayal of all these good, but imperfect people, and the ties between Fabiola and her cousins were really earned by the book.

I also really liked the sort of interludes where we got to see the stories of other people or things. I thought it really added to the story and I was impressed at how each of the characters had a distinctive voice. Also, character-wise, Kasim was amazing. Like everybody else, he’s not perfect, but he and Fabiola together were just soooo goooood. He was so sweet to her and she was such a cinnamon roll around him and I just want them to be happy and adorable for 300-odd pages without a plot. His interlude! When he talks about her in his interlude! I want a Kasim. Or somebody who likes me as much as Kasim likes Fabiola.

(I’m not a puddle of feelings, you’re a puddle of feelings.)

And the setting! I felt really immersed in the world Ibi Zoboi was painting, whether it was describing settings, people, feelings, or food. This book made me so hungry. Fabiola cooks a lot of Haitian food because she’s a perfect human being who deserves so much better than this bittersweet world has to give her and I could smell my neighbours cooking while I was reading. (My neighbours are Jamaican and used to bring food over for my family all the time when I was little, so I was imagining all the food as being similar to Jamaican food and now I’m hungry again.)

But my favourite part was the almost-magical-realism in the story. Fabiola practices vodou (the religion), and its rituals and the lwas (like a pantheon of gods or saints, I think?) are really important to her. I don’t think that this book is fully magical realism, but, at least for most of the book, it sort of toes the line so you’re questioning what if there might be some supernatural elements at play. It’s this mix of imagery and hints of the divine that would give some scenes this otherworldly feel, whether it was strange dreams, songs in the nighttime, or just how Fabiola sees the lwas in everyone around her. I don’t fully know how to describe exactly what it was, but it is so worth reading just to see what I mean.

I had high expectations going into this book (it’s been nominated for a bunch of prizes), but it’s safe to say that my expectations were surpassed. This was moving, beautiful, intelligent, and I can’t wait to see what Ibi Zoboi does next because EXCUSE ME, I WILL BE THERE. I WILL BE THERE FOR EVERYTHING THIS WOMAN WRITES FROM NOW ON.

Verdict: buy it

Have you read American Street? What did you think? Have you read any other books that toy with the supernatural? Which ones? (Because I want more books like this.)

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

  1. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Slay A Lion to Get Early | Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts

  2. Pingback: Mid-Year Freakout Tag | Death By A Thousand Paper Cuts

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