American Street

American Street

by

Ibi Zoboi

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American Street: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After class, Mr. Nolan gives Fabiola her revised paper. Since Fabiola added evidence, Mr. Nolan bumped her grade up to an A. Mr. Nolan asks Fabiola how she’s is adjusting to Detroit, but Fabiola isn’t sure how to answer. After a minute, Mr. Nolan says that he’s sure it’s hard, so he’ll give Fabiola extra credit if she ever wants to write about her experience. Fabiola asks him how he’s adjusting and realizes immediately that it’s a silly question. But she wants to know what his life is like, since he’s only the second Black male teacher she’s ever had. With a laugh, Mr. Nolan explains that he was born and raised in Detroit. He’s messed up a few times, but he made things right and expects his students to do the same. As Fabiola leaves, Mr. Nolan tells her that she’s doing well and encourages her to stay focused.
Even if Fabiola resents Mr. Nolan’s teaching methods at times, he’s still an important figure in her life as a Black teacher. He’s in a position of power and makes a decent living—he shows Fabiola what’s possible, and this makes him a role model. Mr. Nolan also makes the case that it’s possible for people to mess up when they’re young and put things back together afterward. This certainly isn’t true for everyone—lots of people lack access to education or other opportunities—but Mr. Nolan still encourages his students to try.
Themes
Dignity and the American Dream Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Outside, Imani notices Fabiola’s A and says that Mr. Nolan went easy on her. Imani insists that Fabiola has been spending too much time with Kasim to write and asks what Fabiola “put out” to see Alvin Ailey, thrusting her hips. Just then, Donna appears and asks if Imani wants to have sex with Dray. Imani looks away as Donna says that she’s just trying to look out for Imani. Fabiola assures Imani that Donna won’t do anything, but Imani insists that Fabiola’s cousins will hurt her anyway. Since Chantal is honking the horn for Fabiola, Fabiola lets Imani go and gets in the car. She tells Donna that Imani is just trying to help with school, not steal Dray. Donna says that she’s aware, and Pri explains that as the Three Bees, it’s their job to make people afraid.
Donna’s bullying doesn’t make sense to Fabiola, who knows that Dray is the real villain in this situation. But Pri tries to explain that they’re actually doing a good thing by frightening people like Imani. In this sense, Pri and Donna insist that the ability to endure emotional violence and trauma is necessary to survive in Detroit. Fabiola doesn’t believe this, however, which indicates that she’s not totally loyal to her cousins and their worldview.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Trauma, Violence, and Desperation Theme Icon
Donna says that Imani needs to understand that she has no chance with Dray. A lot of girls wouldn’t hesitate to have sex with Dray, thinking that he’d buy them things—but Dray regularly burns those girls. Fabiola asks why Donna couldn’t just tell Imani this instead of bullying her. At this, Chantal snaps that being nice and showing weakness will give other girls the opportunity to bully Fabiola. But if the Three Bees keep doing what they’re doing, Fabiola can focus on schoolwork. Fabiola understands—her cousins need to protect their bodies, their name, and their story. And since they’re her cousins, Fabiola knows that she has to pitch in too. However, Fabiola thinks that she needs to protect her friends like Imani, as well.
Here, Donna admits that Dray cheats on her with other girls hoping to take her place. Clearly, there is a fight for Dray’s affection, and Donna feels justified in intimidating girls like Imani if it means she continues to benefit from Dray’s financial generosity. To Fabiola, though, this all looks ridiculous—until Chantal points out that Fabiola benefits from Donna and Pri’s bullying. Because they make it clear that Fabiola is one of them, she has the space and the freedom to concentrate on schoolwork.
Themes
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Chantal pulls up in front of a house, where a group of girls are standing outside. Donna tells Fabiola to get out; they’re getting their hair and nails done for Dray’s birthday party tonight. Fabiola refuses, but Donna explains that Fabiola has to look the part if she wants to come. Then, Donna stalks off, and Chantal assures Fabiola that she doesn’t have to go—if only because Dray is paying. Dray wants Fabiola to look good for Kasim. Chantal explains that Dray tried to butter up her and Pri like this too. Pri sighs that sometimes, she wishes Fabiola wasn’t with Kasim, since he’s so close to Dray. When Fabiola asks why her cousins still allow Dray in their lives, Pri explains that it’s because Donna loves him. If Fabiola gets the makeover, it’ll really be for Donna’s benefit.
For Chantal and Pri, it’s more important to keep Donna in their lives than it is to try to shut Dray out of their lives. So, they put up with Dray’s abuse and Donna’s excuses, as it gives them their only opportunity to protect their sister. But they also want Fabiola to know that they know exactly what’s going on. Dray is trying to buy Donna and her family members’ affections, which is the reason he’s paying for Fabiola’s makeover. Allowing Dray to think he’s winning in this instance will make Donna feel happier and more secure, so it might be worth it for Fabiola to go along with it.
Themes
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
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At this, Fabiola leaps out of the car. She knows that this is her chance to be a trickster, like Papa Legba, and put on a costume that will help her hand Dray over to Detective Stevens. Outside the car, Donna greets a tall woman with a booming voice named Miss Sandra, while another smaller, muscular woman introduces herself as Ms. Unique. Inside, Fabiola thinks that this place is an altar for Ezili. This, she realizes, is Papa Legba’s doing—Fabiola needs Ezili’s help to make her look like the kind of person Dray would like. Fabiola is distracted when Ms. Unique asks Donna what happened to her face. Donna’s wigs have been covering up bruised scratches from Dray. As the women crowd around Donna and offer to hurt Dray, Fabiola says that Ezili-Danto would support that. She explains that Ezili-Danto is the lwa of vengeance for women. Fabiola sits for her transformation and vows to take down Dray.
Once again, Fabiola makes an uncomfortable situation manageable when she looks at things through the lens of her Vodou spirituality. Donna becomes more than just a cousin in this moment; she becomes an iteration of the Vodou spirit Ezili. This makes her more palatable to Fabiola and helps Fabiola accept that Donna means well and is trying to help. And by introducing Donna to Ezili and Ezili-Danto, she also helps Donna connect with her Haitian heritage. This might help Donna find the strength to leave Dray—or at least to survive his abuse until Fabiola can put Dray behind bars.
Themes
Spirituality Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Identity and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
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