"American Street" by Ibi Zoboi, Chapters 1-6

In Ibi Zoboi's debut novel, a young Haitian immigrant tries to make a new life for herself in Detroit.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: Chapters 1-6, Chapters 7-12, Chapters 13-19, Chapters 20-25, Chapters 26-32
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definitions & notes only words
  1. visa
    an endorsement that allows the bearer to enter a country
    Manman had carried all our important documents in a big yellow envelope tucked into her large purse—our passports, her visa, and the papers to prove that we are who we say we are...
  2. terminal
    station where vehicles load or unload passengers or goods
    With every step I take out of the terminal, I look back, and up, and around, as if my mother will appear from out of nowhere.
  3. weary
    physically and mentally fatigued
    I search for her face in the crowd of new arrivals rushing past me—some with their eyes as weary as mine, others tracking every too-bright light, every movement of each person around them, peering into every corner of this too-big place.
  4. clench
    squeeze together tightly
    I purse my lips and clench my fists.
  5. dignity
    the quality of being worthy of esteem or respect
    And then tomorrow, she will come to this side of the glass, where there is good work that will make her hold her head up with dignity, where she will be proud to send me to school for free, and where we will build a good, brand-new life.
  6. shapely
    having pleasing proportions
    If only Detroit had a bunch of blan, it would be easier for me to pick out a single black woman and three teenage girls, but many of the women look like my aunt with their brown faces; black, shiny straightened hair; and their big, dark coats that hide their shapely figures.
  7. fidget
    move restlessly
    A girl steps in front of me as I fidget with one of the suitcases.
  8. peasant
    one of a class of agricultural laborers
    Their faces are mirrors of each other, but their bodies are opposites—one tall and skinny and the other short and chunky—as if Princess ruled their mother’s womb and Primadonna was an underfed peasant.
  9. immigration
    movement of persons into a place
    “Fabiola, your mother’s going to be sent to an immigration detention center in New Jersey. She’s not coming to Detroit,” Chantal says.
  10. detention
    a state of being confined (usually for a short time)
    “Fabiola, your mother’s going to be sent to an immigration detention center in New Jersey. She’s not coming to Detroit,” Chantal says.
  11. breadth
    the extent of something from side to side
    Even with a few lampposts dotting the streets, I can’t see the breadth and depth of this city that is my birthplace, that is now my home.
  12. mansion
    a large and imposing house
    I squint to see if the big mansions I’ve seen on American TV will glow or sparkle in the dark.
  13. dimly
    with a faint light
    A dimly lit lamp shines a light on the person standing at the door, and I recognize the face.
  14. stroke
    a loss of consciousness from the lack of oxygen in the brain
    Half her face barely moves, frozen from her stroke.
  15. inhale
    draw deep into the lungs by breathing
    Then she inhales deep and only one shoulder raises up to meet her breath.
  16. complicated
    difficult to analyze or understand
    These things, Fabiola...they are so complicated, yes?
  17. accent
    distinctive manner of oral expression
    A bit of Haiti is peppered in her English words—the accent has not completely disappeared.
  18. beige
    of a light grayish-brown color
    The living room of this house, my new home, is a sea of beige leather.
  19. scepter
    a ceremonial or emblematic staff
    She motions toward Pri’s closed door with a poster of a crown and scepter crossing each other.
  20. disrespectful
    exhibiting lack of regard; rude and discourteous
    And you don’t see that as disrespectful?
  21. guttural
    relating to or articulated in the throat
    He finishes out his tune with a low, guttural hum just as the deep, pounding bass of a revved car engine overrides his voice.
  22. deliberate
    carefully thought out in advance
    At that same moment, a man comes out of the driver’s side and takes long, deliberate steps toward the corner.
  23. limp
    lacking in strength, firmness, or resilience
    He reaches the singing man, grabs the collar of the old man’s dirty coat, and punches him until his body is limp.
  24. shrink
    draw back, as with fear or pain
    I shrink away from the window. I want to unsee and unhear everything. My heart is racing and there’s not enough air where I’m standing.
  25. enamel
    any smooth glossy coating that resembles ceramic glaze
    Upstairs, I find a near-empty shelf in Chantal’s room, move the books aside, and start taking my mother’s things out of her carry-on bag: a small statue of La Sainte Vierge, two tea candles, the beaded asson gourd, a small brass bell, a white enamel mug, a cross, and a piece of white fabric.
  26. libation
    the act of pouring a liquid offering as a religious ceremony
    I’m now only missing a potted plant for the libation.
  27. conjure
    summon into action or bring into existence
    This is the first night I’ve spent away from you and I can’t even conjure an image in my mind of where you must be.
  28. distracted
    having the attention diverted especially because of anxiety
    Were we too blinded and distracted by the excitement?
  29. crossroads
    a point where a choice must be made
    “He is the Iwa of crossroads. When there’s no way, Papa Legba will make a way. He opens doors and unlocks gates,” I say
  30. contemplate
    consider as a possibility
    I contemplate asking to switch uniform skirts with her since hers is too short and mine is so long.
  31. lethal
    of an instrument of certain death
    A seventeen year-old University Liggett High School student died last week of an alleged lethal cocktail of designer drugs.
  32. synthetic
    not of natural origin; prepared or made artificially
    Locals are now saying there have been a string of parties over the last few months where the synthetic designer drugs were made available to partygoers as young as thirteen.
  33. voodoo
    a religion practiced chiefly in Caribbean countries
    They thought just 'cause we were Haitian, we didn’t bathe, we wore mismatched colors, and we did voodoo.
  34. crew
    an informal body of friends
    This one time, a crew of girls from the east side challenged Donna on her Frenchness.
  35. scholarship
    financial aid provided to a student on the basis of merit
    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.
  36. brawn
    the trait of possessing muscular strength
    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.
  37. flamboyant
    tending to attract attention; marked by ostentatious display
    Their hoods and thick coats make them look like the fat iguanas that cling to the bright-red flamboyant trees back home.
  38. tuition
    a fee paid for instruction, especially for higher education
    “You know, those documents won’t really be necessary for now. This should cover her tuition for a while. How is your mother doing, by the way?”
  39. enunciate
    express or state clearly
    “Fabiola Toussaint. FAH-BYO-LA TOO-SAINT,” I enunciate slowly.
  40. outrageous
    greatly exceeding bounds of reason or moderation
    I let out a loud laugh, because everything Imani says sounds so outrageous.
  41. wail
    a cry of sorrow and grief
    The whole house seems to want to squeeze me in, force a deep wail from out of my body because it’s only been one day and I am losing myself to this new place.
  42. salvation
    a means of preserving from harm or unpleasantness
    Maybe that will be my salvation, my death.
  43. judgment
    the act of assessing a person or situation or event
    Any hint of an accent could be an invitation for judgment—that I’m stupid and I don’t belong here.
  44. decent
    sufficient for the purpose
    Her coat is decent and clean, her jeans are plain, her boots look new, and her face is hard, but safe—like a schoolteacher’s.
  45. enormity
    vastness of size or extent
    The lady follows me into the CVS, but she goes down another aisle as I stand there staring at the enormity of it all.

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