American Street by Ibi Zoboi

American Street by Ibi ZoboiSummary: A teen girl, born in the US, but living in Haiti since soon after her birth, returns to the US. Her mother is detained by ICE, but Fabiola continues on to live with her aunt and cousins in Detroit.

My goal of reading more fiction this year has not been going well. But it is summer, and summer is a time for Fiction. American Street was on sale as I was making plans for a six hour solo drive to the beach. I listened to all but the last 30 minutes of American Street on the way to the beach and the last 30 minutes and Believe Me on the way back.

This is a very good audiobook. Robin Miles, who I was not fond of when she narrated Binti, was excellent here. Her various accents, which felt fake in Binti, felt authentic here in part because she not only doing Haitian, but also Detroit street. The range of voices was what made the narration.

American Street is named after the street where the house that Fabiola come to live, the one where she was born. It is right on the corner of Joy and American streets, which is the reason that the house was purchased by new immigrants to the US. When her mother is detained by ICE as they go through customs in New York City (Fabiola’s mother overstayed her visa on the previous trip so that Fabiola would be born in the US), Fabiola is left to go on to Detroit and meet cousins and an aunt that she has talked to, but not met.

Fabiola’s life in Haiti, with her good English schools and her hard work, has not truly prepared her for Detroit. She is also not prepared for the realities of street life without the guidance of her mother.

American Street has significant thread of magical realism. I started American Street not long after I finished Laurus, about a 15th century doctor and holy man. Both used magical realism to communicate the belief in religious faith in remarkably similar ways. Both Laurus and Fabiola were true believers, in Christianity for Laurus and Voodoo for Fabiola. But I cannot describe the presentation in any other way than magical realism, which I have only really encountered in Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and Song Yet Sung by James McBride.

I knew nothing about Voodoo before this book, but I did not need any background to understand the story. Fabiola, as she attempts to understand this foreign world, makes sense of the world around her through the ‘social imaginary’ (as Charles Taylor calls it) of the Haitian/Voodoo world. The Voodoo is real, in a very similar way to the way that Christianity is real in Laurus. But the difference between Christianity and Voodoo (I think) what is asked for and revealed is not always what is desired here.

Ultimately this is a tragedy. A tragedy that you understand much more of as different perspectives are shared. But an understood tragedy is still tragic. This is well worth reading. Especially for the current reality of separated immigrant families and the tragic ways that people make decisions when pressed to their limits.

This is a good reminder of why fiction is so important and why I keep needing to force myself to read it, even when I am sometimes reluctant to break away from the ‘important books’.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook 

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