Release date: February 14, 2017
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 must learn that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?
A story about a young immigrant arriving to live in America, and finding it not all that she had dreamt it to be, American Street is poignant, gritty and bittersweet. Fabiola was supposed to arrive with her mother, but is now all alone navigating this new life in her aunt’s house, with these cousins she only knew through calls and online conversations before. The reality of living in this new place, the culture shock that accompanies it, the way the others treat her or tease her accent or doubt her command over English – the author puts it all out. If you go by experiences and writing alone, the book is pretty good. The duality of being a teenage girl who wants to stay true to her roots but also fit in with her new life; and combined with her missing her mother, realizing the truth about her family, navigating a social life that is filled with drama, and wanting to do something to change the situation. There is also some magic realism involving the lwa (I always saw it as loa until now) but I am not sure what really happened there, so I won’t speak much about it.
As far as subject matters go, the author chose an excellent one, and it is quite timely considering the present atmosphere. But I also felt Fabiola’s story about yearning for her mother, about living a very different life her but not finding it any better than life in Haiti – this was the crux, and it somehow got lost in the petty dramas of her cousin and her boyfriend. Granted Dray had a role to play in the story and the impetus for her decisions, but Donna and Dray fight like nearly every chapter and after a point, it becomes white noise. There was also the subplot involving Karim which until the end, doesn’t really affect much of the story and felt like a filler to check the ‘teen romance’ box, especially when they are professing love and all within no time. As for the opportunity to get her mother out of the detention facility, that could have been given more prominence story-wise because that was where the moral dilemma that drives this story was created, instead of high-school drama about girl cliques.
Overall, I would say it is a good debut, and provides a different view of a story, but it could have done with a better plotline. The writing style is a strong point, though, and I am looking forward to future books from the author.
Received a free review copy from Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss.