American Street

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
American Street Book Poster Image
Raw and gritty immigrant story best for mature teens.

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Kids say

age 12+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows the hardship and pitfalls of urban life for recent immigrants to the U.S.

Positive Messages

Strong message of family loyalty, but here it sometimes entails illegal activity. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite his loyalty to friends who have chosen a life outside the law, Fabiola's boyfriend, Kasim, works at a local coffee shop, loves books, and is determined to make a better future for himself.

Violence

A character is shot and killed, an elderly man is beaten and kicked for no reason, a girl is physically and emotionally abused by her boyfriend, there are lots minor fights and threats of the "you better watch out or I'll get you" variety. Fabiola's cousin Princess is known at her high school as "The Brawler."

Sex

Two characters have sex, but it's not explicitly described.

Language

Lots and lots and lots of strong language. "F--k" repeatedly. Also "s--t," "c--k," "motherf----r," "bitch," and "nigga."

Consumerism

A few mentions of rap artists. Fabiola and Kasim attend a performance of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters (both adults and teens) drink, use drugs. and deal drugs. A girl dies from a drug overdose, and underage characters hang out at a club that smells of "alcohol, marijuana, and lust."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ibi Zoboi's American Street is the story of Fabiola, an American-born teen who's been raised in Haiti by her single mother. When they decide to return to the United States, her mother is held at immigration and Fabiola must travel alone to her aunt's home in Detroit. Zoboi's story of how Fabiola tries to make a new life for herself in a struggling and often violent neighborhood is raw and full of swearing ("f--k," "s--t," c--k"). Several storylines revolve around drug dealing and an abusive relationship. While there are poignant elements to the novel -- Fabiola's determination to free her mother and a tender first romance -- this book is best suited for mature teens.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written byMayberry June 17, 2018

American Street

I gave up on the book, even though it has a good story line.

What's the story?

In AMERICAN STREET, U.S.-born Fabiola and her Haitian mother decide to return to America in search of a better life. When her mother is detained by U.S. immigration and told she will be returned to Haiti, the teen goes on alone to her aunt's home in a gritty Detroit neighborhood. Fabiola immediately bonds with her cousin Chantal, who's enrolled in college and shares her love of books. Attending high school with her twin cousins Donna and Princess is another story. Donna has a drug-dealing boyfriend who physically abuses her, and Princess is a notorious brawler willing to fight both girls and boys. Desperate to help her mother, Fabiola agrees to a dangerous deal offered her by a police detective: provide evidence against Donna's boyfriend, and the police will do their best to see that her mother is able to stay in the U.S. Only then does Fabiola discover her aunt supports the family by dealing drugs and that her cousins' are involved in the family business.

Is it any good?

This edgy and realistic novel takes an unflinching look at the new life a Haitian-raised teen girl tries to create for herself in a gritty Detroit neighborhood. Author Ibi Zoboi, who immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti when she was a child, is a gifted storyteller who has created a vivid and memorable cast of characters. But her novel is best suited for mature teens given the graphic storylines about family loyalties, drug dealing, and an abusive relationship. Readers should consider whether the merits of the writing outweigh any concerns about language and drug-related content.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the the challenges immigrants face in American Street. Do you have friends or family members who are immigrants? How have their lives changed since they came to the U.S.? What kinds of struggles have they faced?

  • How do you feel about the amount of swearing in American Street? Does it add to the realism or intrude upon the storytelling? 

  • How many TV and film stars can you name who are from other countries but live and work in America?

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