American Street

Arriving with her mother from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at Kennedy Airport, "holding hands for courage," 17-year-old Fabiola Toussaint, a U.S. citizen by birth, is ushered through Customs while immigration officials detain Manman. Fabiola is forced to leave her behind in New York, and lands alone in Detroit to face the only other family she has, uncertain of the "good, brand-new life" her mother promised. "Back in Haiti, it was always just me and Manman. But now, my world has ballooned and in it are these three cousins, and my aunt, too." Fabiola dares to hope: "Family takes care of each other." While she waits for her mother's release, her three cousins help her adapt to American English, high school in a large city and the social hierarchies on and off the street. Known as the "Three Bees"--Chantal is the brains, Donna the beauty, Pri the brawn--they hover as Fabiola navigates new relationships, including the sweet promise of first romance. Fabiola must figure out if--and how--she fits in as the fourth Bee.

Author Ibi Zoboi, who immigrated to Brooklyn, N.Y., from Haiti at four, "pulled from [her] own memories of living in between cultures" to write her electrifying debut novel; even as Fabiola morphs into an urban American teen, Zoboi keeps Fabiola intimately connected to Haitian traditions through Vodou, lwas (mystical spirits) and patron saints. Zoboi's raw, gritty, cautiously hopeful narrative captures a family in transition, working to support each other, stay together and do more than just survive the dangers and temptations on American Street. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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