“So trying to come to America from the wrong country is a crime?”
― Ibi Zoboi,
The 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?
Eden: I think Ibi Zoboi did something I haven’t seen an author do in a long time and that was make a statement when it is most needed. American Street is timely in a way that many books struggle to hit and that’s simply because Zoboi understands her characters struggles. Because of this, Zoboi manages to captivate the reader while helping them empathize with the struggle of a young Haitian immigrant. 5/5 stars.
Caitlynn: This book had everything that I could want in a book, Zoboi did such a fantastic job telling this story and making it feel like such a real thing. All of the characters were so relatable and personable and each held such a significant part of Fabiola adapting to the American lifestyle. 5/5 stars for me!
Caitlynn: So what did everyone rate it?
Eden: 5 stars, easily.
C: I agree!
C, also: And Jenn agrees because I already see that on Goodreads…
E: Before we get into the actual book, did either of you read the Author’s Note?
C: I probably did, I don’t remember.
J: I don’t remember it.
E: When she talks about how the Trayvon Martin case influenced her writing for this book and how she related so much to the girl that was talking to Trayvon on the phone that night…
C & J: Yes! Definitely read it.
E: Well, you guys know how I don’t usually read the acknowledgements or author’s notes…
C: Yeah… you’re bad about not reading those.
E: Once I finished the actual story, I was so amazed by what I read that I wanted to read the author’s note to better understand the reasoning. I feel like I got such a better understanding of why she chose this story and what made her decide to write this story in particular.
C: I don’t even know what to say about it because it was such a good story.
E: I loved that nobody in the story was just good or bad, the people were just people in the story. They were just trying to live and survive. It feels like we are always trying to determine who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in the story and it was more like these are people who are realistically portrayed. Especially living in a place where they have to scramble to make ends meet on a daily basis.
C: It definitely felt really realistic.
J: I appreciated that she was talking about an immigrant’s perspective in an area where it’s not common for there to be immigrants. A lot of times immigrants that come to the United States and find an area where immigrants have already built a community, whereas Fabiola was thrown into Detroit so she stood out more. It felt like a very honest depiction of someone experiencing the culture shocks and different norms from her home to the US.
C: I love that Zoboi used the fact that Fabiola was an immigrant, but at the same time technically she wasn’t because she was born in the States. She grew up in Haiti and that was her whole life and learned those customs. Everything in this book was portrayed so well, I loved that the characters portrayed so many different aspects of life in the United States.
E: The story was just so highly spoken about, it just really did feel like a true immigrants tale. In a way, it was for Zoboi because she is an immigrant.
E, also.: How did you guys like the incorporation of Vodou?
J: I liked that it was represented as the religion that it is as opposed to just a superstition. It felt so much more respectful and more like an actual belief system than just voodoo curses that you see in culture now.
C: It made me have a whole new level of respect for it. I just associated Vodou with just magic and curses before reading this book and it has so much more to it.
J: Vodou has a lot of roots that mimic Catholicism and worship a lot of the same Saints. There were many more parallels than what we see in our mainstream media.
E: Aside from that, the parallels from her Vodou entities to each of the characters within the story. It was almost like Zoboi was crafting her own mythology around the characters. It comes across as a cautionary tale for a religious perspective. It was really well-written that way. It really makes me appreciate Zoboi more because she was able to seamlessly incorporate the stories together that way.
C: The way that Fabiola stuck to her religion and kept to it even though it was such a negatively perceived religion really made me appreciate the story. There was such a stigma to her practicing Vodou but she kept to it through the whole story.
E: Even at the end of the story, when they are packing up to leave the house and Pri has the suitcase with her Vodou artifacts, Fabiola tells her to be careful with it and Pri responds with “oh you mean, your voodoo shit?” Fabiola responds with Pri needing to be respectful of it because it’s just as much a part of me as anything. Fabiola doesn’t know what she is without Vodou and it just shows such an unwavering devotion to a part of her. We don’t get to see characters that maintain their beliefs so strongly, so it was great to finally see it.
C: I agree.
C, also: I love the cover.
E: The cover is beautiful.
E, also: This book is so timely, in the midst of all this crap that is going on with our government and everything associated with that. It was great to read a book about the immigrant struggle.
C: I feel like because of everything going on in the past few years in the United States, it really made me appreciate this book more. If I had read this 10 years ago I never would have appreciated it as much.
E: We definitely needed to better understand the background of where these characters were coming from. We are three white women and our privilege doesn’t allow us to understand these struggles that immigrants go through. The fact that Zoboi used the Trayvon Martin case as a basis for this book allows for us to put it into context and realize that there is an issue.
C: Exactly, if I would have read this when I was 16, and these issues weren’t as greatly publicized as they are now I would have been like “no way, there’s no way people have to live like this, no one gets treated like this.”
E: I definitely think I would have thought the same thing, it would have been so unrealistic to me then. Again, I was upper-middle class white girl and my life was nothing like that.
C: Yes, this is why I’m glad we read it now and were able to empathize with the story.
E: Final thoughts?
C: This book really had everything going for it, it had romance, drama, a little bit of laughs, immigration issues, and religion. And I think-I just said all of those things and that’s a lot to put into one book-but Zoboi did this book so well that it made the story fantastic. I’m just glad that I got to watch Fabiola adapt to American society.
E: I agree with what you said, she didn’t necessarily grow, she adapted. She literally was a character that embodied the American ideals. I loved that 30 pages from the end of the book I didn’t know what was going to happen. I finished it and I was so satisfied with it, I don’t feel that very often with books that I read.
C: And to be satisfied with just one book, too. Like I don’t need anything else from this story because I’m completely satisfied with everything that happened and how it ended.
E: I loved it.
J: What I appreciated about this book, besides what you guys already covered, was that there was no one way to fix the problem. It was a problem that was fully-encompassing the whole story so there was no good way or right answer. No matter what the ending was, it was going to feel realistic to their story. I like that it felt like it was honest to the community that it was told within.