- Fabiola Toussaint – After immigrating from Haiti to Detroit, Michigan, and losing her mother to a detention center in the process, Fabiola is quickly immersed into an unfamiliar lifestyle. With a different language, home, school, friends, and family, Fabiola must adapt to her new American life. She relies heavily on vodou and her spirituality to guide her through each all her new experiences, challenges, and the hard decisions she must make.
- The Three Bees- Chantal, Primadonna “Donna”, and Princess “Pri” François – Fabiola’s three cousins are a force to be reckoned with and everyone in school knows not to mess with them. All three girls have contrasting personalities but together they have an unbreakable bond that their rough environment has only made tighter. The three bees always have each others back and are willing to do anything to ensure their family’s security even if it puts them in harm's way. Chantal is the oldest and is known to be the brains of the three bees. She gave up her opportunity to go to college to stay home and make sure her mom and sisters were taken care of. Pri, or the brawn of the three bees, is unafraid to stand up to anyone in order to defend their reputation. She is always there when her sisters need her, usually putting them before herself. Donna, Pri’s twin, is the beauty of the three bees. She is a party going social standout who is known for her volatile relationship.
- Marjorie François “Matant Jo” – Marjorie immigrated to america from Haiti at a young age after her and her younger sister were orphaned in search of a better life. Not long after she settled down in Detroit with her husband was killed leaving her alone with their three daughters. With plenty of personal struggles of her own, Marjorie is by no means the ideal mother figure, but she did whatever she needed to provide for her family on top sending money to her sister and niece back in Haiti.
- Valerie Toussaint “Manman” – Valerie is Fabiola’s mother who attempts to immigrate to America from Haiti in order to live with her sister in Detroit. She becomes detained by ICE at their first stop in New York for overstaying her visa years before. She makes the decision to tell Fabiola to go on to Detroit without her. Without the money or resources, and unable to contact anyone, she is stuck waiting in the detention center for the assistance of her older sister, Marjoire.
- Drayton – His ominous presence seems to bring trouble wherever he goes. Dray is a well known dangerous drug dealer and is notorious for his violent outbursts. He is very domineering especially towards Donna, his girlfriend and “love of his life.” He posses a threat to anyone he comes into contact and is a huge roadblock in Fabiola’s ability to have a happy life in America.
- Kasim Anderson – Kasim may be Dray’s right hand man, but does not share the same personality traits. He is a hardworking, kind character who has gotten caught up with the wrong crowd and is the one who pays the price. It is not long after Fabiola’s arrival that he falls for her, and provides her with more insights on how Detroit runs and the people who live there.
- Bad Leg “Papa Legba” – Bad Leg was the name given to him from the people in the neighborhood who just view him as an old delusional druggy. The locals would say he just sits on the curb singing a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, but Fabiola who refers to him as “Papa Legba” would disagree. His words and presence have a much different impact on Fabiola and how she perceives her new life in Detroit.
- Detective Shawna Stevens – A police officer on a mission to find justice for a teen who died from a bad batch of drugs. She recruits Fabiola’s to find and provide insider information that can incriminate the suspect in exchange for the release of her mother from the detention center.
- Q – The mastermind behind the drug industry and money flow that various characters find themselves caught up in. Involvement with Q drives characters to make risky decisions in order to stay on his good side.
- Imani – After helping Fabiola with a school assignment she befriends her. Imani’s presence in Fabiola’s life provides her with the perspective of those outside of her cousins and their social circle.
- Religion as a Guiding Force for People Disconnected from their Culture – Throughout the book, the reader learns that Fabiola’s mother was a vodou priestess in Haiti. Fabiola also practices vodou and experiences a disconnected feel from the “normal” culture in America. Vodou is not a very popular religion in America; some could say not respected either. Fabiola worships god and guiding spirits. There is an old man on the street who sings riddles, and Fabiola believes he is Papa Legba, who is the spirit of the crossroads. Fabiola often lights candles and uses her magic to figure out what to do next. There are other religious beliefs that are seen (briefly) in the story. Kasim does tell Fabiola that he grew up in the Muslim faith, and Pri says a Thanksgiving prayer to God, thanking Him for bringing Fabiola to them. The connection that Fabiola has to her faith connects her to her mother, and this is what keeps her sane in Detroit while she is away from Valerie. Without her strong belief system she never would have come to conclusions about her path of action and how to deal with problems that arise in her life. That being said, did her faith lead her to make rash and ultimately highly destructive decisions? Could she have fit her faith into her new life in America in a more “practical” or intentional way? If she had let her religion take a back seat to logic or rational thinking, would the deaths of Kasim or Dray been avoided? Would she still have her family?
- The American Dream: Opportunities in Immigration – Fabiola and her mother Valerie are coming to America to get out of Haiti and to be happy. Valerie doesn’t end up making it very far in America, but Fabiola makes it to Michigan to her Aunt’s house. Fabiola spends the rest of the novel trying to be happy. For the majority of the book this means trying to get her mom back, at first it is all she can think about but eventually other problems come into view and she begins to take her aunt and cousins and Kasim and even herself into account. The “dream” for Fabiola is to be happy. She has to figure out what this means, is it making a home in Detroit, and in America, or is it leaving everything and, in a way, ruining the lives of everyone she has made connections with in Detroit in hopes to get her mom back?
- Blood Family vs. Created Family – The entire story leads to the reader on a journey of choices made by Fabiola, an American-born teenager who has lived most of her life with her mother (Manman) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her mother brought her to America to live in Detroit with her aunt, but her mom is stuck in a detention center in New Jersey. Fabiola has no choice but to leave her mother behind. Her cousins live at the corner of American Street and Joy Road (metaphors in the story). Throughout the course of the novel Fabiola has to consistently choose between her mother, her aunt and cousins and the people she meets in Detroit. These decisions are followed by her boyfriend’s tag line of “Shit you do for fam”. But who is her “fam”? For Kasim, Dray, Q, and even her own cousins and aunt, family is a medley of blood and connections, it's the people they rely on. Fabiola has only ever had her mother, her aunt was a distant connection that she knew over the phone and through her money, but she only ever had her mother in Haiti. Now her “family” has grown and everyone involved has to decide who to make bonds with, who will be a positive force, and who could lead to her demise.
- The Complexity of Domestic Violence and its Impact on Families – Something a reader will notice while reading American Street is that profanity appears frequently. Violence is also featured throughout this story. For example, when Dray kicks and punches Papa Legba. Dray also frequently beats up on Donna, and is often leaving scars and bruises on her. On top of that, Dray also has jealousy issues and once put someone in the hospital for looking “the wrong way” at Donna. Kasim is a character that we don’t see much violence from, however, is a character that dies in violence. Kasim’s death impacted the family in ways that are irreparable. After he dies, Dray violently pulls Fabiola’s hair and drags her down a flight of steps, then puts a gun to Fabiola’s head. This is a reaction to the violence committed against Kasim, a violent reaction to a violent act. The readers learn that Uncle Q put a gun in Dray’s hand when He was 10 years old and told Dray to shoot a man. Dray shoots a man, but not the right man – he shoots and kills Fabiola’s uncle by mistake. This leads into how violence makes powerful impacts on family that leads to more and more violence. This family has learned to fight violence with violence and that is clearly seen through the actions and reactions to the violence committed in their community. Fabiola, shortly after, ends up fighting a girl who says “Kasim belongs to her.” Violence creates violence and can strongly impact personal decisions on day to day life.
Fabiola Toussaint :
- “Unlike in Haiti, which means “land of many mountains,” the ground is level here and stretches as far as I can see- as if there are no limits to dreams here. But then I realize that everyone is climbing their own mountain here in America. They are tall and mighty and they live in the hears and everyday lives of the people. And I am not a pebble in the valley. I am a mountain.” (324)
- “Ma wanted me to go to a big university. She told me not to worry about her and my sisters, to just do my own thing. But how could I? This is home. My mother is home. My sisters are home. And even you… you force me to remember the home I left behind. You make me remember my bones.” (117)
- “But Dray… After that, he bought me a diamond necklace and took me shopping. And it’s been D&D all along. Dungeons and Dragons. Sometimes we fight each other, but he fights for me, and I fight for him.” (134)
- “By high school, Chantal had gotten a scholarship to some fancy prep school, University Liggett, Donna was going out with Dray, and I was… well, let’s just say I was the brawn. I don’t remember who came up with it first, but Chantal is the brains, Donna is the beauty, and me, I’m the brawn. Three Bees. The biggest, baddest bitches from the west side. Nobody, I mean nobody, fucks with us.” (46)
- “This is your home now, Fabiola. This is Phillip’s house- the house he bought with the last bit of money he had from Haiti. He had dreams, you know. That’s why when he saw this house for sale, on the corner of American Street and Joy Road, he insisted on buying it with the cash from his ransacked and burned-to-the-ground car dealership in Port-au-Prince. He thought he was buying American Joy.” (57)
- “We were too heavy. Not with our bags. Not with our bodies. But with our burdens.” (168)
- “It hurts. A bullet to the head… it goes straight through and turns into some kind of blow horn for your memories. It wakes up shit you ain’t never thought you would remember. And you realize that this shit ain’t new- you’ve been dead before.” (313)
- “Kasim means ‘divided amongst many’ in Arabic. Will you pray for me?” (236)
- “And if Q is like a father to Dray, then Q is my father, too.” (284)
Bad Leg “Papa Legba”:
- “Crossroads, cross paths, Double-cross and cross-examine, Cross a bridge across my mind. A cross to bear across the line, And cross the street across town. Cross out, cross off, cross your t’s and cross your fingers, then nail him to a cross as you cross your heart and hope not to die.” (111)
Themes on Religion:
- I had to find answers to why God took away the one true love in her sister’s life. But only the Iwas were able to give her answers. They speak to her, and she listens.” (63)
- “How did you get there, Manman? What did you do? Is it because you are a mambo- a Vodou priestess who held ceremonies in the courtyard of a Christian NGO building? Are they punishing me?” (76)
- “Leg. Bad,” I say loud and clear, because I now see him for who he is- the old man at the crossroads with his hat and cane and riddles comes to open doors for me. He is the Iwa who guards the gates to everything good- to everything bad, too.” (82)
Themes on Domestic Violence:
- “Darkness. Not black, but red. Like blood from the deepest part of being alive. It pumps fire- hot sizzling in the pit of my stomach. I want to destroy her. Destroy them. Destroy everything.” (254)
- “But there is nothing left to do but fight. I keep grabbing the banister and screaming. He pulls my finger back, then he grabs both my arms. He wins. I am at the bottom of the stairs. Still, I fight. I kick. I scream.” (304)
Themes on Immigration:
- “Joy and American. A crossroads. Intersecting. One is not the other. I look down Joy Road with its few streetlights dotting the wide path. There are not that many houses and lots of open land. It can either mean endless possibilities or dark, empty hope.” (111)
- “I was only a little girl when my home was almost split in half. And while everyone around me thought the sky was coming apart right above our heads, it was the ground that was surrounding under the weight of our heavy burdens. And maybe this corner of American and Joy is collapsing under the weight of all that troubles me, too- we left everything we loved behind in Haiti and my mother was put into something like jail.” (150)
Themes on Blood Family vs. Created Family:
- “Suddenly, I feel so alone in this house. I am surrounded by family, but none of them really know me or understands what happened to me today. My heart begins to ache for my mother. How could my aunt just leave me here in the kitchen- is this how you treat family in America? There is no celebration for my arrival, no meal is cooked, no neighbors are invited to welcome me, not even a glass of cool water is on the table for me to drink after such a long trip.” (20)
- “Sacrifice. We cannot get something for nothing, Manman always says. Prayers, songs, and offerings are not enough. We have to meet God halfway. So I know what I must do.” (150)
- “Yeah, my fucking brother, son! That was fam, son! My brother. He was all I got. All I got.” (305)
Michael Ortizo, Emma Marek, Elizabeth Masi, and Megan Burns ’19