Book Review: American Street

Title: American Street
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic, Magical Realism
Pages: 336
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available Now

Summary: 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?

Review: Last week I posted about awesome Black heroines and if I had read Zoboi’s debut novel before then I would have added Fabiola Toussaint to the list. Fabiola is extremely close with her mother and unfortunately, because her mother is detained at customs, she has to navigate her new life in Detroit without her mother’s support. And while Fabiola greatly misses her mother, she has to dig deep within herself to find familiarity with family she has only spoken on the phone with. Fabiola is a bit shy at the beginning of the novel, but through her experiences (and her open-mindedness) she grows and discovers how brave she actually is.

Weaved within Fabiola’s story we get vignettes about the lives of the people in Fabiola’s life, including the story of the house on American Street. These lovely insight to the characters, including antagonist Dray, add to the depth and richness to the characters that live and interact with the ladies of 8800 American Street, and gives the reader a deeper insight into what motives the characters, information that Fabiola must learn. It’s a wonderful literary device that Zoboi uses and is done in a such a way that it adds to the narrative rather than take away from the story.

I absolutely love novels with magical realism, so discovering that American Street was full of magical realism, specifically Vodou and the lwas (spirits), added to my enjoyment of the story. I’m so glad that Zoboi infused her novel with Haitian magical realism because I’ve yet to see a book do Vodou right. Vodou is so misunderstood and is often characterized as evil, when in fact it is the opposite, so I love that the lwas were presented as the religious icons they are. Fabiola’s belief in the lwas is what helps her find strength to live without her mother, adjust to Detroit, and guides many of her decisions. I specifically loved how Zoboi used Papa Legba here and the reveal of who he was was a perfect moment. At that point, just like Fabiola, I was trying to figure out his message and how exactly he was going to help out Fabiola.

Lastly, what makes American Street so truly American is that it is a tale that is told many times over. It is the tale of an immigrant who comes to our country with dreams of golden streets and then must adjust to the reality and contradiction that is America. We get to see ourselves, both the good and the bad, from Fabiola’s eyes. We get to see how wonderful America is and also where we also fail our citizens. But most of all, we are reminded of the hope, the perseverance that all immigrants have (and had) when they arrive here looking for a better life. It is a story that many in our country seemed to have forgotten and need to be reminded of.

Recommendation: This book is available now so run to your nearest book store and pick up a copy.

YA Reading and Activism

Given the terrifying speed at which things have been moving in the political realm these days, it’s hard not to feel helpless and hopeless. As my sister pointed out to me right after the November election, things have always been bad (see: unclean water in Flint, wars abroad and police brutality at home – the list goes on), and now things are just… worse, in a way that affects everyone and certain groups of people in particular.

I love YA and reading, and I will fight anyone who dismisses it as shallow nonsense. Stories have power. At the same time, it’s frustrating to watch people (myself included!) be all talk and no action. To be clear, any action that you can contribute, however small, to making things less awful is always valuable.

In that vein, here’s a list of YA fiction starring people most vulnerable right now – immigrants, religious and racial minorities, and LGBTQIA people – and organizations that are doing good work and could use your volunteer hours, money, or signal boosting:

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell – March tells the story of John Lewis’s work at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Given the racial inequality and current attack on voting rights happening today, his comic book series is a necessary primer on American history.

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth – Music, cross-cultural friendship, and life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in the 1970s — you’ll want to read this.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz – Rare is the book that features gay and PoC characters, but that’s what this is. Dante and Aristotle’s love story is just the sweetest, and I’ve been love with this book since day one.

Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung – This is an Australian YA book that I honestly wish was way more popular in America. It tells the story of Lucy, a girl from a working class immigrant family, who ends up navigating the treacherous waters of an all-girls private school.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed – I’ll let the book blurb do the talking: “Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?” As a Muslim Pakistani-American girl, Naila comes face to face with love and her cultural heritage.

Organizations that could use your money or time: 
Southern Poverty Law Center
International Refugee Assistance Project
#NoDAPL Standing Rock
Trans Lifeline
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Road to 2018: The book community in politics

What are you doing and reading these days? How do you stay informed without getting overwhelmed? How is your bookshelf meeting your activism?

New Releases

We found three new releases for this week. I’ve been looking forward to reading The Education of Margot Sanchez for a long time and am excited it’s finally going to be available.

Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin
Katherine Tegen Books

Pamela L. Laskin’s beautiful and lyrical novel in verse delivers a fresh and captivating retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that transports the star-crossed lovers to the modern-day Israel-Palestine conflict.

Ronit, an Israeli girl, lives on one side of the fence. Jamil, a Palestinian boy, lives on the other side. Only miles apart but separated by generations of conflict—much more than just the concrete blockade between them. Their fathers, however, work in a distrusting but mutually beneficial business arrangement, a relationship that brings Ronit and Jamil together. And lightning strikes. The kind of lightning that transcends barrier fences, war, and hatred.

The teenage lovers fall desperately into the throes of forbidden love, one that would create an irreparable rift between their families if it were discovered. But a love this big can only be kept secret for so long. Ronit and Jamil must face the fateful choice to save their lives or their loves, as it may not be possible to save both.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera
Simon & Schuster

Pretty in Pink comes to the South Bronx in this bold and romantic coming-of-age novel about dysfunctional families, good and bad choices, and finding the courage to question everything you ever thought you wanted—from debut author Lilliam Rivera.

THINGS/PEOPLE MARGOT HATES:

Mami, for destroying my social life
Papi, for allowing Junior to become a Neanderthal
Junior, for becoming a Neanderthal
This supermarket
Everyone else

After “borrowing” her father’s credit card to finance a more stylish wardrobe, Margot
Sanchez suddenly finds herself grounded. And by grounded, she means working as an indentured servant in her family’s struggling grocery store to pay off her debts.

With each order of deli meat she slices, Margot can feel her carefully cultivated prep school reputation slipping through her fingers, and she’s willing to do anything to get out of this punishment. Lie, cheat, and maybe even steal…

Margot’s invitation to the ultimate beach party is within reach and she has no intention of letting her family’s drama or Moises—the admittedly good looking but outspoken boy from the neighborhood—keep her from her goal.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Some bodies won’t stay buried.
Some stories need to be told.

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past… and the present.

Nearly one hundred years earlier, a misguided violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

Through intricately interwoven alternating perspectives, Jennifer Latham’s lightning-paced page-turner brings the Tulsa race riot of 1921 to blazing life and raises important question about the complex state of US race relations – both yesterday and today.

Review: Exo by Fonda Lee

Title: Exo
Author: Fonda Lee
Genres: Science-fiction
Pages: 384
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: eARC received via Edelweiss
Availability: Available now

Summary: It’s been a century of peace since Earth became a colony of an alien race with far reaches into the galaxy. Some die-hard extremists still oppose alien rule on Earth, but Donovan Reyes isn’t one of them. His dad holds the prestigious position of Prime Liaison in the collaborationist government, and Donovan’s high social standing along with his exocel (a remarkable alien technology fused to his body) guarantee him a bright future in the security forces. That is, until a routine patrol goes awry and Donovan’s abducted by the human revolutionary group Sapience, determined to end alien control.

When Sapience realizes whose son Donovan is, they think they’ve found the ultimate bargaining chip. But the Prime Liaison doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, not even for his own son. Left in the hands of terrorists who have more uses for him dead than alive, the fate of Earth rests on Donovan’s survival. Because if Sapience kills him, it could spark another intergalactic war. And Earth didn’t win the last one . . .

Review: It has been a while since I’ve read any science fiction, and Exo reminded me of several of my favorite aspects of the genre: aliens, moral quandaries, and cool technology.

Unlike a lot of my favorite science fiction, the aliens that Fonda Lee has created for Exo are very un-human-like, what with their mushroom-like bodies with six legs, six eyes, fins, and armor. The scattered information we got about the War Era and the conquering of earth—a billion people dead, the reshaping of political boundaries, a new social system—was intriguing. Occasionally, I felt like the world of Exo was too wide for just Donovan’s point of view and wished to see it from inside someone else’s head. Particularly someone from a less privileged life.

Donovan was an engaging character, and it was easy to root for him even when I didn’t think he was making the right choices. Watching him start to question the way of life he was raised in—while simultaneously criticizing opposing views—was a satisfying character arc, though it doesn’t feel complete. (But I suppose that’s what sequels are for.) While I wanted to see more of his life not centered around his job, I have to admit that there were several riveting action scenes because of it. Lee did a great job with her action scenes and in creating the tension- and dread-filled scenes leading up to them.

Perhaps my most significant complaint about Exo is the limited development of several significant side characters, most notably Anya and Donovan’s father. While we were told some formative parts of Anya’s backstory, even Donovan had a throwaway line about how little he really knew her and speculation that his attraction to her was more the result of trauma and loneliness than anything else. Considering the great personal risks he takes for her in the climax, I wish that Anya—and her relationship to Donovan—had been more fleshed out. Similarly, I don’t feel as if we ever got to know Donovan’s father very well on an intimate level, which was a shame, considering how important he was within the story.

I also noticed something that concerned me: the use of Native American imagery. Saul Strong Winter is the name of the Sapience cell leader in the Black Hills, so I presume he is of Native descent, but we are never given a specific tribe or nation for him. A “Native American eagle” design is a symbol of Sapience, referred to as a symbol of freedom, but it gets put on bumper stickers, and features in a tattoo (by a character I believe is non-Native) that turns out to be an important clue for Donovan later on. I don’t know enough about Native American representation to talk about this further, but I would appreciate hearing from any Native American readers about their thoughts on this book.

EDIT (2/20/17): I have been informed by the author that she and her editor made changes to the book prior to printing regarding this imagery. While an eagle tattoo still features in the plot, it is no longer a Native American design. They realized that Sapience’s use of a Native American design would be problematic and corrected that for the print version of the book.

Recommendation: Get it soon, if alien conquests in science fiction are your thing. While Exo isn’t without problems, it is a fun, fast read with some interesting world building. I’m looking forward to the next book.

Extras
Interview with Fonda Lee at Rich in Color

Excerpt of Exo

Shades of Grey – Developing Unique Characters That are a Blend of Evil and Good by Fonda Lee

Black Girl Magic

One of the most anticipated debuts of 2017 is Angie Thomas’s “The Hate U Give”. At the center of the story is 16 year Starr, a young Black girl, who witnesses her friend fatally shot by a police officer. Word on the street is that Thoma’s debut novel is one that will break your heart and move you into action at the same time. Of course, we at Rich in Color are excited as well, so instead of just reading and reviewing the book, “The Hate U Give” will be our first discussion book of 2017! Read along with us when the novel comes out at the end of this month and then share your thoughts with us.

But before that, I thought I’d celebrate Thomas’s debut by sharing some of my favorite YA Black heroines (and for Black History Month).

1. Flora from The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
First off, Flora is a pilot! Who can’t love a Black heroine who is one of the few women flying planes in this Depression-era novel. Not only does Flora want to be like Amelia Earhart, she is a talented singer who works in her family’s night club. She loves her family fiercely and would do anything for them, much to the chagrin of the young man who wants her attention. While she is intrigued by her suitor, Flora has her priorities set and resists him because she is fully aware of the racism that she and her suitor would face as an inter-racial couple. Flora has tremendous agency in this novel and is not a passive participant in the romance once it begins to develop. In fact, her suitor ends up following her lead. Flora’s determination and drive to be unapologetic-ally herself in a time when Black women were facing so much oppression can show teens that they can be anything they put their heart into.

2. Natasha from The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
One of the many great characteristics that Natasha has is that she is aware of her authentic self, which is often very unusual in a teenager which is why Natasha is so captivating. She is in a position where she knows the odds are against her but she decides to try to fight her deportation the best way she can. Even though she does experience moments of self doubt, she has a strong sense of who she is and decides to fight on because for her not trying something is failure. She is smart, witty, and funny, and like Flora, is not a passive participant in the romance. She doesn’t just react to her situation, but makes responsible decisions to actively change her situation. She doesn’t always get it right, but Natasha always tries and just that reason alone makes her an admirable character.

3. Lauren (Panda) from Endangered by Lamar Giles
I found Lauren/Panda to be a fun character with a lovely sarcastic attitude but also with a deeply caring heart. Panda’s initial reasons for why she exposes secrets come from a good place but really she ends up being just as bad as the people that hurt her initially. What makes Panda so special is that this is a character who becomes aware of this fault, reflects on it, then works hard to correct her mistake. Through her experience she also learns how to forgive and that forgiveness can set you free. I also love Panda because of the relationship she has with her parents. Like many teens, she keeps secrets from them, but when she realizes she truly needs the help of her parents, she has the integrity to come clean about her misdeeds knowing that she will face consequences. Panda is the type of teen that everyone can relate to because at some point, we’ve all been Panda.

4. Sierra Santiago from Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
What I love best about Sierra is that she learns she has been dealt a raw deal by her family and instead of getting angry and raging at her family, she puts her energy into learning her magic and trying to solve the mystery. Sierra is a typical mono-myth hero whose life is turned upside down due to outside forces and must learn how to navigate in this new world she finds herself in. There are times when Sierra is frustrated and confused, but it is her love for her family, her friends, and her community that propels her to continue on her hero’s journey. Sierra is the mono-myth heroine we need because she finds her strength through her experiences and shows that Black girls can have amazing adventures and save the day.

5. Emily (Bird) from Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Watching Bird change from sweet DC socialite to becoming woke is what makes her such a fascinating character. As Bird becomes more entrenched in solving the mystery, she also begins to become aware of the falseness of the people around her and becomes more confident in her Blackness. In turn, by becoming woke, she gains a stronger sense of self that actually scare some of the people around her, but she doesn’t care. That is what I loved best about her. Bird went from a girl needed everyone’s approval and acceptance to demanding that people accept her for who she is. For a teenager, to make that sort of demand is huge and empowering, which makes Bird a great fictional role model for all teens.

6. Genna from A Wish After Midnight & A Door at the Crossroads by Zetta Elliott
I am a huge fan of character transformations and Genna’s transformation from a girl who tries to hide her true self to one where she takes control of her life is a beautiful one. At the beginning, Genna seems almost mystified to find herself with a boyfriend, but with their separation and the need to survive in 1863, a completely different world of her own, Genna learns that she is much stronger than she ever realized, she just needed the opportunity. The Genna at the end of the book is a completely different Genna from the beginning. The Genna at the end of the novel is one who is willing to take risks, to fight for her family and friends, and willing to stand up for herself. I found myself truly rooting for Genna to succeed, especially in the sequel where she has now realized her true power and decides to use it. Genna is the heroine we all root for and want in our corner.

New Releases

Happy early book birthday to the three books coming out tomorrow on 2/14! Are you planning to read any of these?

American Street by Ibi Zoboi
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? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Ones and Zeroes (Mirador #2) by Dan Wells
Overworld. It’s more than just the world’s most popular e-sport—for thousands of VR teams around the globe, Overworld is life. It means fame and fortune, or maybe it’s a ticket out of obscurity or poverty. If you have a connection to the internet and four friends you trust with your life, anything is possible.

Marisa Carneseca is on the hunt for a mysterious hacker named Grendel when she receives word that her amateur Overworld team has been invited to Forward Motion, one of the most exclusive tournaments of the year. For Marisa, this could mean anything—a chance to finally go pro and to help her family, stuck in an LA neighborhood on the wrong side of the growing divide between the rich and the poor. But Forward Motion turns out to be more than it seems—rife with corruption, infighting, and danger—and Marisa runs headlong into Alain Bensoussan, a beautiful, dangerous underground freedom fighter who reveals to her the darker side of the forces behind the tournament. It soon becomes clear that, in this game, winning might be the only way to get out alive. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
A timely and powerful story about a teen girl from a poor neighborhood striving for success, from acclaimed author Renée Watson.

Jade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods. But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference. [Image and summary via Goodreads]