Book 33: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

This book was truly amazing. I am not really sure what I expected of this book. I went in thinking it was about immigration, but I found myself wrapped up in a little bit of everything. I am not sure that I agree that the plot was well paced and thought out completely, but I do agree that this is an important read, and it is written beautifully.

Fabiola and her mother are moving to Detroit to be with her aunt and 3 cousins: Chantal, Primadonna, and Princess. Her mother is immediately held up by immigration and Fabiola is sent on to be with her family at the intersection of American Street and Joy Street.

As Fabiola’s tale of isolation and immigration unravels, you see this world for the first time with her. She calls upon her lwas to give her strength and guide her to help bring her mother back. Along the way, she makes some friends, meets a boy, gets closer to her family, and sees that there is darkness lurking over American Street. Her journey is one that seems unknown and unreal, but for many, this is life. The shit we do for family is all the justification needed when the odds and system are stacked against you.

This book’s importance not only lies with the social justice stance that it makes, but it shows the culture of a world that we get false insight into. Vodou is demonized by American culture, but in reality, it is a faith system that has little to do with witchcraft. Haiti is a culture that polarize with poverty or prosperity, but we think nothing of its people and the rich culture they have. Zoboi brings this culture to America and does so with grace.

This book left me in awe and feeling ignorant and privileged. We all have our demons and our struggles, but this book shows real struggle. It also shows that not everything is as it seems from the outside. The proverb in the front of the book says it all:

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

Nothing is truer than that statement.

For readers, this book is deep and heavy, but it is also light and shallow. It has the dimension that every YA book should. It is not perfect, but it is real. That’s why I loved it. Give it a try. It will leave you thinking.

For libraries, I think this book is one that people will talk about beyond this year. It will be a book that you put on displays for years to come. Buy it for all libraries where there are teens.


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