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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Standing Behind Our Young Writers

Within days of the surprising outcome of our election, students around the country left class and took to the streets to protest against the newly elected president. Because I teach at a middle school, our students were not so inclined to protest, but the neighboring high schools did. I participated in discussions with other teachers about the protests (some supported the students, some did not) but the overall consensus was that we  were all proud of these young teens who were standing up for their rights because they felt like their future was in danger. We all agreed that these students should be encouraged to continue to express their hopes and fears about a changing world and their role in it.

Young voices that definitely need to be encouraged over the next four years are those of marginalized youth. Not only must continue to strive for more diverse and #ownvoices novels, we must encourage the next generation of writers of color to be fearless and truthful in their own writing. We must encourage them to find their voices and believe that their stories are just as valid, as important as their white counterparts. We need to help them find their truth and not be afraid of the blank page. We need to be there for them when the writing is hard, gut-wrenching, and celebrate them when they achieve their goals.

Teachers & School Librarians, we are on the front lines and the ones who can make or break a potential writer. Remember that over half of our students are of color, therefore you have the responsibility to assist a young writer in achieving their dreams. What you say, or what you don’t say, can have lasting effects. If you see one of your students has a talent for writing, encourage them to keep writing. Share with them teen publishing sites and/or encourage them to seek out after school or summer writing programs; better yet, create writing clubs of your own.

Parents, & everyone else who interacts with a young person, you have a responsibility too. You have to encourage the young writers in your lives by giving them the space to write. Help them seek out after school or summer writing programs, take them to see their favorite authors speak who, by just being in that author’s presence, will inspire your young writer to create. Most of all, however, is to give them your support. Remind them that their voice is important and needs to be heard.

Lastly, the next four years will definitely be challenging for all, but especially for marginalized peoples. Some of our kids are scared, uncertain of what the future may bring, but it is our job as the adults in the room to provide them with the support they need to overcome any challenges that come our way.

Below are just a few organizations that cater to helping young writers. If you know a young writer, share with them these organizations, become involved and/or donate. These organizations will need your support, as they encourage our youth to create, over the next four years.

WriteGirl is a LA based organization that pairs authors with teen girls.

 

826 is a national organization with with chapters in Los Angeles, New York, Boston & Chicago, to name a few, that works with students and teachers for tutoring and creative writing classes.

National Writing Project is a program that partners collage campuses with K-12 teachers in working together to improve writing. Teachers, look for a site near you.

National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) is a fun writing competition that is held every year in November, with their “summer camp” series in April and July. Nano can be done individually, or as a class (I did it with my Honors classes this year and we had fun). If a student/young writer meets their word count goal, they receive all sorts of goodies including having their book printed by CreateSpace so they have a copy of their novel.

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Publishing’s Bondage and Freedom

breaking-chains

With the announcement of “When We Was Fierce” being pulled just days before publication for revision, the YA twitter sphere has been having some deep, profound, and insightful conversations about positive representations and how meaningful they are to People of Color. E.E. Charlton-Trujillo and her publisher’s decision to pull the book highlights that all the conversations had offline and online, all the conference panels, research done by Lee & Low, and all the good work done by WNDB is having an effect. I applaud Charlton-Trujillo and her publishers willingness to listen to the voices of those who were hurt by the book and decided to take positive action.

All of these conversations were in the back of my mind as I attended a panel about the past, present and future of African-American publishing the other night. The moderator decided to frame the panel conversation around a quote from Fredrick Douglass, which also got me thinking about why the types of conversations we’ve been having, and all the work to diversify YA literature is important, and not a trend.

From his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, the quote essentially states (and I’m paraphrasing*), “Reading and writing can move Black folk from bondage to freedom.” Douglass’s quote is powerful and stepped in truth because slaves were purposefully prevented from learning to read and write in order for the slave masters to control them, because an educated slave is a dangerous slave.

As that quote rolled around in my brain, I thought of the very fight that is happening in our industry right now. Authors of color are literally fighting their bondage (lack of representation) to their freedom (inclusiveness in the publishing industry). Reading and writing does not only move Black folk out of bondage but it moves us all. When we have accurate portrayals of the different voices of our world, we all become enlightened to the lives of people who are not like us and become more empathetic people. Our imaginations are powerful and literature is the door that can literally open new worlds.

That can only happen if our literature reflects the wide and diverse experiences of the people living in our beautiful world. That is why #ownvoices is important, why #DVpit is important, and why we need to continue to push the publishing industry to not just say it’s going to make change, but hold publishing houses accountable. It is also why teachers and librarians need to continue to teach and push diverse texts in the classroom.

Those members of the publishing industry who have privilege need to stop putting their heads in the sand and listen to People of Color when we say a book hurts us, when we say that bad representation is worse than no representation, and not claim that we are “censoring” them. They need to stop making it all about themselves and their writing, and actually think about who their audience is. Understand that their audience includes children of color who are learning to fight the mental bondage of living in an oppressed society and are desiring to see positive, accurate representation of themselves. Those of us adults who are fighting for the kids know firsthand what that bondage feels like, and while we have survived it, that hurt child that still lives in our hearts is why we fight so hard. Why we fight for our children’s freedom.

One of the speakers on the panel, Adilifu Nama, one of the members behind the Afrofuturism movement, said, “One of the ways we are able to dismantle ill conceived notions of ourselves is through literature, through the power of our imagination.” This exact reason is why children of color need to see positive representations of themselves in their literature and the way to do that is to make sure that the books that are released do not have demeaning and racists depictions. It is why the publishing industry needs to be as sensitive as Charlton-Trujillo and her publishers were and take the steps to correct their mistakes. There is nothing wrong with admitting you made a mistake as long as you take the proper steps to correct it.

Institutional racism has held us all in bondage for a long time that fighting for our freedom is hard and hurtful, but it is a fight that we must take in order for all of us to truly be free. And if we continue on the path we are walking, correcting our mistakes, putting action behind our words, then we’ll get there.

*I paraphrased because I couldn’t find my book, and what I wrote in my notes from the panel. No shade to Mr. Douglass.

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Activism and Self-Care

Last week was a difficult one for many in our community after the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers. There was a lot of discussion all over the YA lit sphere about #blacklivesmatter and #ownvoices and how important #CarefreeBlackKids2k16 is.

On Monday Camryn Garrett‘s article “Black Lives Matter Is the Bare Minimum” went up on MTV.com, and she was attacked over its content. Many members of the YA community rallied to her defense, which was a wonderful thing to see.

Today we’d like to share a small collection of our favorite YA books and book lists about activism/social commentary or fun/self-care that are written by black authors and/or star black protagonists.

Activism/Social Commentary
  • The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon
  • Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon
  • March: Book One by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin with artist Nate Powell
  • How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
  • X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon

Full #Kidlit4Justice Booklist

Read This: #BlackLivesMatter Reads for Teens

Social Justice and Activism in YA Lit

Campaign Zero

How to Help Online

Fun/Self Care
  • This Side of Home by Renée Watson
  • Pointe by Brandy Colbert
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Endangered by Lamar Giles
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
  • Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra
  • Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland
  • Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid

Self-Care Books for African-Americans in the Wake of Recent Tragedies

2014 African American MG & YA Fiction

You Need These Books By Black Women on Your YA Shelves


Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

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