Monday, September 27, 2021

A New Author

(Well, she's new to me, anyway) 

Following along in my unplanned journey into Stories of Exile, I've found Ibi Zoboi.  She is a clear voice, a no bullshit, cut to the heart, I can't read another word but I cannot put this down kind of writer - and her voice is unlike any other I've read.

She brought me to Haiti and Detroit and inside juvenile detention and I'm still wondering what happened to those I met along the way.  They were very real.  

On the first page of American Street, ICE separates a teenage Haitian girl - with American citizenship - from her mother - whose paperwork is not exactly in order - as they step off the airplane into New York, and, as Manman promises, la belle vie.  Fabiola's struggle to free her is just one of the threads Zoboi has running through her story.  There are three cousins and an aunt.  There are good boys and bad boys - because these are high school kids so of course there are both kinds of boys.... sometimes rolled up into one.  And there is Detroit.  I love reading when the location is a character, and the burnt out, gentrification nibbling on the edges, city is a serious player.

I worried that this would be an overcoming bullying story.  I worried that the unwillingly renamed Fabulous would mope and moan for 200+ pages.  I worried in vain.  This girl is strong, and she's not afraid of stepping into her power.  Alone and uncertain, she imposes order amidst what appears to her as chaos.  Her voudou practice is part and parcel of everything she does... and if you don't think it's real at the beginning I'll bet you have a different perspective by the end.

This is real loss and real love and family above all.  This is marketed as a Young Adult novel, and it would certainly be worth reading in middle school or high school.  But I'm almost 70 and I couldn't put it down.  

I moved on to poetry, Amanda S Gorman style poetry, with Punching the Air - written with Dr. Yusef Salaam, one of the Exonerated 5 (formerly the Central Park 5 - young black teens wrongly accused of rape and murder who served years of detention before being exonerated in 2002).

This one, too, stopped me in my tracks.  Could I continue to put these images and thoughts in my lazy Friday afternoon brain?  This is first person stuff, which felt like it was happening to me.  Looking through the cell bars at the paper and markers on an unreachable table... I had to put the book down and take a cleansing breath or six.  

The reality of unequal justice is hard to read about, yet we must.  There is optimism and hope and pain and fear (with far more of the last two) but mostly, in both books, there is absolutely beautiful writing.  There is nothing more, nothing less, that is needed.  It is spare and elegant.  It elegantly inhabits  all sorts of different spaces, and effortlessly brings you along on the ride. 

You'll smell the inside of Dray's car.  You'll see Amal's painting.  

I'm waiting for the rest of her oeuvre from the library.


  1. That sounds like quite a positive endorsement. I will put it on my list -- So many books, so little time. I thought that might be solved in retirement, but . . .

    1. I have maxed out my HOLDS at the library! There are so many good ones.


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