American Dirt Review

Second Book for the day.

So listen, there is a lot to unpack for this book and I really just didn’t go into it. There is two parts to the controversy for this book. One is that this book had a seven company bidding war as well as a large number payment for the book deal. The fact that this book also got on Oprah’s Book Club, is also to be considered. These two facts tied on to the fact that the author has no experience for what is told in this novel outside of research, is enough to cause a controversy. This is an issue primarily for POC authors who have been trying to write similar stories. This is a publication controversy. That’s only the first half.

I was almost tempted to not post this review, because I feel rather naive about the controversy about this book for the second half of it. The second half of the controversy comes from how the characters were portrayed in this novel, the content controversy, being called stereotypes amongst other things. With all the reviews I read, I understand it is clear that Lydia comes across as an American tourist more than a Mexican woman. Additionally people cite how not much happens in character arcs but trauma, which I can agree with in a look back. The characters change because of trauma, and not much else growth. There are a few other things that I would recommend looking up for yourself.

I feel odd rating this book well because I don’t think it was horribly written and it did make me feel things and care. But rating it horribly seems like a cop out because I don’t hate this book, even with my research.

I think that this book can be used as a talking ground on why this (the situation regarding the publication of the book and book portrayal itself) isn’t okay, and also to speak on refugee situations. It is for that reason that I am posting this review at all.

Additionally, this review is pretty gutted when compared to my standard for reviews. Part of this has to do with the medium of reading. I was reading this book on my ipad while on trains. This means I reread a lot because I can’t focus on digital versions of books. Please note that this review was written before I did a lot more research for this specific book and topic, stuff I wanted to know for book club. I did more after book club as well. As such I mention wanting to do more research a bit, and that is a past thought.

Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target  audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.

That being said… Spoilers ahead.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Synopsis From The Book

Lydia 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?

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.

Contemporary | A – W |Murder, Rape and Sexual Assault, Abuse, Fear of Life | Hope, Drive for Survival

Initial Thoughts Before Reading:

Alright here we go. Book club book and the first book I’m reading on the train to Metz. 

Initial Thoughts After Reading:

Well that was. An interesting novel. I have mixed feelings about it. It wasn’t a bad read, and it did make me feel a lot, but I was tired while reading it.

Plot Overview:

The book begins with a massacre.  It is the day of a quinceanera and sixteen members of the family die, save the mother and youngest son. The cartel came and killed their family. Lydia and Luca survived and now they have to flee in order to stay alive. The two travel across Mexico having to escape the cartel.

We learn that Lydia was friends with the cartel leader. That her husband was a reporter, who made a report on the man and their family died. She later learns that when her husband posted the article, the cartel leader’s daughter killed herself. He apparently didn’t want to kill her, but we can’t be sure.

Lydia and Luca meet many people, including Rebecca and Soledad two girls from Honduras,  who were running from a gang member who loved Soledad. Lydia and Luca learn from them and save them when they are captured by immigrant watchmen (who could have sold them). They also meet a guy named Lorenzo, who was running from the cartel that killed Lydia’s family too. 

They do get across the border, but multiple people died, including Lorenzo who was shot by Soledad before he almost raped Rebecca. Lydia tell Javier that he won’t find her and they make it to Denver.

What I Liked:

Luca; he was non verbal and has a genius for geography. He captured my heart and I hope this small child is able to thrive in his new home despite the horror he experienced.

Lydia; as a mother, she is dedicated, and I respect that. Also, I respect her love for books.

Soledad; this poor girl. I hope she and her sister thrive in the new world. 

Rebecca; I feel the worst for her, because of what the journey did to her. She used to talk so much but that was taken from her.

Javier; as a villain I think he was extremely well done. Human and also showing his horrors first hand, not just talk.

What I Would Have Liked or Changed:

This comes down to understanding the exact issue with representation. I need to do a lot more research.

Book Club Thoughts:

It was agreed that it was a bit difficult to pick up this book. As a note, it was interesting that there were six new faces at book club for this book. I was surprised.

We just went through the back questions otherwise because the normal book club leader was not there. Many of the ladies hadn’t read or finished the book, surprisingly.

We did talk about the controversy after I brought it up at the end. And many at the book club expressed that they were confused on why people were so “butt hurt” about this woman writing the book because no one else was writing anything. To me, I was a bit thrown off guard, which was my fault, I should have been prepared to talk back. However, as I am, I can’t really speak on what is stereotypical about the characters, because I am not fully sure outside of what I’ve read online.

I do want to say that after reading other refugee stories, I do think that a lot of the controversy for this book comes from how subjective the book comes across (especially from someone who has not experienced it), as well as how much money as publicity this book got when other POC authors can not.

Rating: 4/5

Written wise, I don’t think it was written poorly, however I do not believe I can rate this too high because it makes me feel awkward about it in so many ways (the publication mess is horrible, as is the way in which some elements are used). I also can’t rate it too low because it would seem like pandering to me, because that’s not actually how I completely feel. My average for my ratings, I try to keep at a 4, where most people try to make it a 3. Thus this book will get a 4. For information on how I rate books, please see here.

Notable Quotes:

I read this on my ipad. And I can’t read on my ipad, it makes me sleepy, so I was too focused on trying to stay awake instead of making notes.

pt 1
pt 2
pt 3

4 thoughts on “American Dirt Review

  1. Nice review Marlena, the book sounds great and I really like your thoughts on it. And whenever I need a book review, I will always visit your site because you do them best.!Thank you for sharing this amazing post with us and stay safe my friend!
    Midnightlion from Penable.

    Liked by 1 person

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