Ibi Zoboi’s American Street is very nearly exactly what a YA novel should be.
The protaganist, Fabiola Toussaint, boards a plane from Haiti to the US along with her mother, planning to move to Detroit to live with family members. During a routine security check while changing planes in New York, Fabiola’s mother is detained by immigration officials and Fabiola’s left to go on to Detroit alone. There, Fabiola’s left to navigate her American cousins, a romance and her attempts to secure her mother’s release.
I have no experience as an immigrant – while I did complete a Study Abroad during college, I have lived my life as a citizen and resident of the country of my birth. I can’t speak – at all – to how real to life Fabiola’s experiences actually are. But I can say that the book felt so real to me – I felt as though the events could actually happen.
This novel is well written, with well drawn characters. These characters are the driving voice of this story and it’s so easy to feel for them – to identify with them. These are people and not just stand ins. While most of the book is from the point of view of Fabiola, the main character, there are short snippets from other characters’ point of views and I loved this. Getting even a short view of these characters from their own thoughts makes them become more than just characters in Fabiola’s story – it’s helps to craft stories of their own as well. You see them all as more than just people to prop up Fabiola. They feel there and important.
There’s real stakes here – things actually matter. It’s not just the basic “woe is me” and love triangle, which is such a nice change of pace. Of course, there is a romance – YA, apparently, just isn’t YA without a romance – but it’s not as grating as it usually is. Personally, I did feel that it happened too quickly and I find it to be fairly unimportant in the larger scheme of the seriously weighty topics that this novel covers, but it’s still far better handled than the majority of YA romance to which I’ve subjected myself.
All in all, I really felt that American Street was a thought-provoking, mostly well told tale and I’m absolutely going to check out whatever Ibi Zoboi writes in the future.