American Street by Ibi Zoboi
I can see why American Street was a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2017. It’s a familiar take on the immigration experience in that it shows the American Dream isn’t as easily achievable as it might seem. What makes it different is Fabiola and her mother’s journey.
Sixteen years ago, when her mother was eight months pregnant with Fabiola, she traveled from Haiti to Detroit to live with her sister until the baby was born. Fabiola was born an American citizen and then the two of them returned to Haiti. Flash forward sixteen years. Fabiola’s aunt has been sending her and her mother lots of money all these years in order for Fabiola to attend a private school and for them to save to move to America. The time has finally come. Fabiola and her mother land at the airport. Fabiola is sent to baggage claim. Her mother is detained. Fabiola is picked up from the airport by her three cousins, leaving Mom behind. She soon finds out that her mother has been sent to an immigration detention center in New Jersey with no signs of her being released into the US. Fabiola is devastated. But that is just the beginning. Life on the corner of American and Joy Street in Detroit, Michigan is not the American experience she dreamed of and there is certainly little joy to be had there. Fabiola is told to trust that her aunt will handle it and find a way to bring her mother home, but Fabiola quickly loses faith in her aunt. Especially when she learns that her aunt’s money is all ill-gotten gains and pushing too hard to get her sister out of detention could get her (Fabiola’s aunt) caught. What follows is the story of Fabiola trying to adjust to this new life in America that is nothing like she imagined. Her cousins are tough, hardened, popular, and feared. They associate with drug dealers (maybe do more than associate) so now Fabiola is associated with drug dealers. When a detective sees Fabiola with her cousins, the detective approaches her with a deal - if Fabiola helps her with information about her cousin’s boyfriend (a known drug dealer), the detective will work to get her mother out of the detention center. It’s an offer Fabiola cannot refuse. Unfortunately, Fabiola falls in love with a sweet boy who is good and a hard worker but also has to help out his “fam” with their illegal dealings. How can Fabiola follow through with her deal with the detective when it will hurt both her family and her man?
Beautifully written, powerfully realistic story. I’m sure stories like this happen more than we know. I couldn’t help comparing Fabiola and Kaseem’s story to Tony and Maria’s story (from West Side Story). That’ll give you an idea of how this one ends up . . . So sad, so real. But as is most often the case with YA and why I prefer YA to Adult Fiction, the author leaves the reader with so much hope. Characters make their mistakes but there is always a way to start over, to make amends, and begin life anew. I have hope for Fabiola and her family. This is an absolute must-purchase for every high school library - in addition to being an excellent and entertaining read, it is a perfect addition to a library’s collection of novels on the theme of the American Dream and/or the immigration experience.