I read American Street last week. There were many things I love–the diversity, the examination of what it means to be in-between two cultures, how it evoked the nuance of being in a new place and making it your home. The story uses lwa’s, Voodou spirits, to add a touch of magical realism to the setting of Detroit. I did wish, however, that the story had shown Fabiola’s relationship with her mother in a more deep way, and why she has faith, the complexities of her belonging (at times it seemed a little easy and instant). But I am glad that I read this.
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?
I really appreciated how the book was unapologetically black—like, white characters are in the minority in this one, I didn’t even notice them that much, with the terminology and the culture and the slang (though I found that the stereotypes of drug dealing and mafia and other illicit stuff was a little confusing as to what Zoboi was trying to say.) I did wish that the culture shock that Fabiola has had been examined a bit more—like, she had been in the US for four days and was dancing with boys at parties and not thinking about anything too much. Like, how does it feel to be told not speak Creole, your own language? I was once told not to speak Hindi—and that’s a painful memory, one that has stayed with me.The strangeness of her new place seemed to be added almost like an afterthought.
There was also the aspect of her forming a relationship with her cousins. I thought the tough cousins, called ‘the three Bee’s” were a delight to read—each one has her own personality and flaws, though I wish I had known more about Chantelle. I did find that her relationship with her cousins sort of dominated over all the other relationship. Why did she love Kasim? How did she feel about Matant Jo, her aunt? What was Fabiola’s relationship with her mother like? I wish that I had known the answer to these questions.
The writing is wonderful–Fabiola’s voice is, strong, and the inclusion of details, like the bedroom where she sleeps, how Fabiola misses food, the earthquake in Haiti, essay writing–they make this story a rich one, and these details are what I really enjoyed reading.
I guess my overall conclusion with this story, pathetic as it sounds, is that there was just a bit too much for me. There were a whole lot of subplots, both in terms of character and story, and none felt like they got properly resolved. The bloody, weird ending didn’t help, either. There was a lot here, in this story—an ownvoices narrative of the Haitian immigrant experience, rooted strongly in the setting of Detroit. But I just wasn’t satisfied with it as a whole.
So what is a great ownvoices book you’ve read recently? And have you read American Street? What did you think?