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.

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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.

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