American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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American Street Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ibi Zoboi's American Street. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as Pascale Philanthrope. At age four, Zoboi immigrated to New York City with her mother, a move that Zoboi has said defines who she is. Her childhood was lonely, since her mother worked and left Zoboi home alone. At one point in Zoboi’s childhood, she and her mother visited Haiti—but Zoboi wasn’t allowed to return to the U.S. after the visit. Her mother finally got Zoboi back to New York three months later, but when Zoboi started fifth grade upon her return, her teacher assumed she didn’t speak English and put her in an English as a second language class. This jumpstarted Zoboi’s writing career, as she turned to writing poetry to cope with being misunderstood and underestimated. As a young adult, Zoboi worked in a bookstore and for a newspaper. She attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she received an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. After marrying her husband, Joseph Zoboi, she changed her name to Ibi Zoboi. While 2017’s American Street was Zoboi’s first novel, she attracted acclaim long before publishing it. She began to publish short stories about a decade earlier and was even named a finalist for the New Visions Award while still in grad school. Zoboi lives in New Jersey with her husband and three children.
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Historical Context of American Street

American Street features a number of real-life historical events and trends. A major event in Fabiola’s childhood was the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. It had a catastrophic magnitude of 7.0, killing at least 100,000 people and destroying or damaging many buildings in Port-Au-Prince, where Fabiola lived. When Fabiola arrives in Detroit, she finds the city still recovering from the aftermath of the mid-2000s Great Recession, which accelerated the city’s decline. Following decades of racial tensions, redlining (a form of racial segregation), and the crack-cocaine crisis of the 1980s, many homes in Detroit were (and still are) vacant and unsellable. Finally, Kasim’s murder by police in the novel is loosely inspired by the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. In 2012, 17-year-old Martin was shot and killed in what many believe was a racially motivated attack. At the time of his death, Martin was on the phone with a female Haitian friend.

Other Books Related to American Street

In interviews, Zoboi has said that it’s important to her to write young adult novels that feature Haiti and that focus on faith—as a young reader, she herself wanted to read about teens grappling with their religion. Religious elements in young adult books are becoming increasingly common, though many don’t present religion in the positive light that American Street does. In both Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis, for instance, the protagonists’ mothers abuse them for not being devout enough. Zoboi is one of many emerging Haitian American authors writing today. She was inspired by Edwidge Danticat, specifically her short story collection Krik, Krak and her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory. More broadly, American Street can be grouped with a number of young adult novels that focus on the immigrant experience in the United States. These include novels like The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, and La Linea by Ann Jarmillo.
Key Facts about American Street
  • Full Title: American Street
  • When Written: 2016–2017
  • Where Written: New Jersey
  • When Published: 2017
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Novel
  • Setting: Detroit, Michigan
  • Climax: Fabiola discovers that the police shot Kasim
  • Antagonist: Dray; racism; violence; the U.S. immigration system
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for American Street

Meeting a Legend. Zoboi was able to meet Haitian American writer Danticat, one of her creative idols. Zoboi and Danticat even worked together on the anthology Haiti Noir and the Haiti series for One Moore Book, a nonprofit that publishes children’s books featuring characters from underrepresented countries.