American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, 4 Stars

Despite the fact that the library has been closed for the past 7 weeks, I was excited to be able to check out American Dirt virtually. Yes, I had heard the rumors that the depictions were quite stereotypical and at times offensive. And I kept that in mind.

And it was a Oprah pick. And it was a CBS Morning News pick. And I was curious. It’s actually not the type of book I would normally pick up, but as it is fiction, I thought I would give it a try and see what I thought. Why do the most controversial books becomes the most intriguing?

From the Publisher:

ydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

My Review:

The premise of American Dirt is in a word, terrifying. In a well-do are of Acapulco, Lydia and Luca are at a family party celebrating a Quinceanera one minute and hiding while their entire extended family is murdered by a cartel the next. When the gunmen are done, they enjoy the chicken the family had been grilling.

Everything and everyone Lydia and Luca had is gone in a second. And they must run to avoid being hunted down also murdered. So they start on their journey, taking painstaking care to avoid the cartels who are everywhere and nothing is certain.

I don’t know much about Mexico. I know the cartels have taken over, making many once peaceful cities dangerous and rife with crime. I know that friends of mine who use to visit family every summer as children, can no longer travel to those regions as they will be kidnapped and held for ransom. I’m sure things are not so black and white and just like in America, there must be many conflicting politics.

I do like to think I know books, however. And while there are most certainly inaccuracies and stereotypes in a book written by someone who, like me, had not seen this side of Mexico personally, I do know that the book is well-written with relatable and believable characters.

Yes, there are generalizations. But the book itself is at once heartbreaking, horrifying, and had me from the first chapter. I think if you can put the criticisms aside, or take them in stride, it’s worth a read. This one is available now:


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