American Street – Ibi Zoboi

death, diversity in YA, families, Female Leads, gay characters

Fabiola Toussaint and her mother are traveling from Haiti to America to join her aunt and cousins, but when Fabiola’s mother is held back by customs, Fabiola joins her cousins and aunt alone.  In Detroit, a city much different that Haiti, Fabiola tries to remember her mother’s guidance in a city where everything is different, her cousins act older than they should, and a mysterious stranger seems to be sending Fabiola messages.

She wants to gain her mother’s freedom, but without money or knowing how to find her once she’s been sent to New Jersey, Fabiola must turn to her cousins and friends in this new city.  Among them is Kasim, the cute boy who seems to prefer Fabiola’s natural hair and Haitian accent over the makeover and slang her cousins give and teach.  Only when a detective approaches Fabiola to assist them in a previous crime and offer to help her with the immigration process for her mother must Fabiola decide which family is more important: the life with her mother or the new love and family she has found with her cousins and Kasim.

It is often a difficult balance in trying to portray a group of people without falling into stereotypical traps in language or behavior, but this is a nice balance offered by Zoboi.  Fab’s cousins are mostly American in behavior and pretend to be strong, but when faced with challenges and fear, they fall into each other with the vulnerability that is only protected in the safely of siblings.  Stereotypes and strengths are gone and we see four young females from a different country trying to survive in a cruel world when they get swept up in greed and a new way of survival.

Fabiola’s experience with family, neighborhood criminals, her Haitian culture, and the need of her mother still detained by Immigration officials makes for a unique story of life in America, but be warned – drugs, crime, sex, death, and cussing.  Still, Fabiola (as well as some other finely created female characters) is smart, strong, and brave.  This is a new story, a strong story, and one worth sharing.


The Sun Is Also A Star – Nicola Yoon

alternating narration, diversity in YA, families, love, Safe Bets

“Do you have idea what it’s like not to fit in anywhere?”  For our characters, they all do.

Natasha is Jamaican and came to America as a child with her family.  Daniel’s family is Korean, but he was born in America.  Both struggle with living in America as outsiders.  For her it’s due to the location of her birth and for him it’s trying to learn how to be both American and Korean.  Life for Natasha is worse than trying to live the American life, she is trying to stay in America.  Natasha’s family is to be deported – tonight – when the story begins.  As a senior in high school who only knows of her life in Brooklyn, Natasha has gone from looking at colleges and planning prom to trying to find a way to remain.

This is more than a YA “meeting a stranger-turned-romance” tale, it shows the depth of families, the struggles when a teenager takes on parental roles, but what makes this second novel by Yoon amazing, and hold up to Everything, Everything is the way she writes of the side characters to show everyone has a story and how lives are connected.  This novel has so much enjoyment to offer from the budding friendship/romance of Natasha and Daniel to the way they spend a day when one is blessed with the freedom of teenagers out of school for a day as they answer questions and experience different parts of Brooklyn and New York City.  Natasha is strong and believes in science.  She values facts over emotion.  When she meets Daniel, who believes in emotions, dreams, poetry, and fate, at first it’s with amusement, but as the day continues, they both begin to understand their view of the world isn’t the only way to view it at all.

The story of these two and their immigration background, family cultures, and day together is a great story on its own, but what I appreciate of this story is that we learn about side characters in alternating narrations, yet characters who seem to have no connection somehow affect each other’s lives.  A side character story line from the security guard to an immigration lawyer having an affair show how people are connected. Yoon also manages to make us see people and circumstances from another view.  As the title suggests, the sun is more than the sun. In a story focused on people coming into a country seeking a home, the real story is the humanity between people – no matter where they are from.


Click here for an interview with Nicola Yoon

This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration -Linda Barrett Osborne

Award Nominee, nonfiction

In This Land Is Our Land the topic of immigration is covered from Jamestown to today.  Osborne does a clear job in defining terms, organizing chapters both chronologically and by groups of people, and balances information and images in an expert fashion to keep attention on the book without growing bored with one set topic or group of people.  Each group of people are addressed respectfully, showing value in both cultures as well as the struggles immigrants had upon arrival.  She clearly states how the true “Americans” were the Native Americans on this land before English settlers and uses her own family ancestry to show the reader that all of us here today came to be because our ancestors were immigrants.  She shows the struggles immigrants faced, but also mentions how they have helped the country throughout history, such as serving in the American Civil War, become successful elected officials, assisting in factories, and helping the economy.

Osborne also addresses the way nativists and government officials tried to decrease the number of immigrants entering the country through such early measures in the 1900s as mandating a “literacy test” as well as enforcing an annual quota of immigrants through Ellis Island each year.  She shows how laws aimed at preserving a false idea of “America” were actually tools of prejudice, limiting not only the number of immigrants that could enter, but selecting which groups were allowed at all (1924 Immigration Act).  Other unfair treatments, such as not allowing Asian immigrants to ever become citizens are mentioned as well.

She discusses the different groups and how racism and prejudice was shown to each group by the nativists who believed they were the true Americans. Thus, showing the long voyage to America was not where the troubles and difficulties ended for those seeking more opportunity or a better life.  Immigrants faced challenges not only due to being from a different country, but also religious prejudice, and limitations on housing and opportunity.  The challenge on keeping one’s culture and heritage while trying to live in a better environment and country is seen throughout This Land Is Our Land and leaves a lasting impact.

Osborne writes in the introduction how she wants this book to be a conversation starter on the broader topic of immigration and with her research and her respect given to this country’s past, I believe it is the perfect conversation starter to be available to children and teens in class, in the library, or at home.  It’s organized beautifully with many primary resources, and while the research is great, I find the gem of this book is the inclusion of all the groups of people that shaped the America we have today: Germans, Irish, Italians, Jews, people from Eastern European, Asia, Latin America.  She offers a special chapter on refugees and how seeking safety is different than simply immigrating.

Author notes, bibliography, citations, and index are included.

My interview with Linda Barrett Osborne for The Hub is coming soon!