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Road Essays
FFFFFF: The far end of the spectrum: orphans who cross the cornfield to utopia
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American Street: 08/03/18

American Street

American Street by Ibi Zoboi is about a young Haitian immigrant separated from her mother by ICE and living with her aunt and cousins in Detroit. They live on the corner of Joy Road and American Street. Fabiola contextualizes her experience through her Haitian spiritualism as she struggles to do right by her mother and come to terms by how assimilated her aunt and cousins are.

At first glance, this book is a straightforward tale of the disconnect between newly arrived immigrants and their settled, established kin. It's about young women making bad decisions in regards to men especially when their circumstances don't seem to offer any better options. It's about these same young women trying to keep their younger cousin from making the same mistakes when she seems to naive to survive a day by herself.

But all of these narrative threads are laid out through Fabiola's Haitian culture and merged with road narrative tropes, especially that of the crossroads. Here's the big important difference, here the crossroads is a source of mentorship and good advice among all the other dangers and temptations.

In crossroads stories written by white authors the magic at the crossroads is always evil. It's something that will corrupt. It's something that expects a soul for payment. It's something that needs to be avoided and kept out — such as in Boneshaker and The Broken Lands both by Kate Milford.

For Fabiola, there is an "old man with a hat" who sits and sings from the empty lot across the street from Fabiola's aunt's house (p. 26). From his first introductory song, onwards, his words provide advice and prophesy that speaks to Fabiola in ways that no one else can. By page 82, she recognizes the man she has been calling "Bad Leg" as Papa Legba. From then on, he serves as protection for her.

American Street as a road narrative is a #996633 or a scarecrow / minotaur at home along a blue highway. Both Fabiola and Bad Leg are scarecrows, or protectors if you will. Fabiola for her family and Bad Leg for the neighborhood. The Blue Highway here meaning an established part of Detroit — although one that has fallen on economic hard times of late. Home is Fabiola's aunt's house and more broadly, her and her mother's desire for une belle vie.

Five stars

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