American Street

American Street


Ibi Zoboi

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American Street: Marjorie and Valerie’s Story Summary & Analysis

Matant Jo says that when she was 15 and Manman was 13, their world opened up when the dictator of Haiti was thrown out. Everyone in Haiti thought that this would bring freedom, democracy, and money. Instead, everything fell apart—and as young orphan girls, Jo and Valerie felt like there were always dictators trying to rule them. They got jobs working in a businessman’s house. The man liked to watch the girls work, which they put up with, but Jo screamed when he tried to touch her. The girls had to leave the house that night.
As young women without a family to care for them, Matant Jo and Manman had to grow up much too fast—and their daughters eventually had to do the same. With this, the novel suggests that circumstances like poverty or vulnerability as a young woman forces children to lose their innocence too early and fend for themselves.
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Jo and Valerie joined crowds waiting for boats to Miami and squeezed into a fishing boat with many others. When the boat started to sink, Jo and Valerie clung to each other as Valerie prayed to La Siren—a mermaid—to save them. Then, a big boat came and answered Valerie’s prayers. Matant Jo says that she didn’t drown because she needed to find freedom in America. And Valerie—Manman—didn’t die because she had more to do.
Even if Matant Jo doesn’t fully buy into Vodou anymore, she still finds meaning in Manman’s prayers. In this sense, Matant Jo is still connected to her Haitian roots and belief systems, even if she seems too hopeless and unmoored to function in Detroit.
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