American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Title: American Dirt (Oprah's Book Club), Author: Jeanine Cummins American Dirt. Finished 4-11-20, 4/5 stars, fiction, pub 2019

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?    from Goodreads

So, I read about the controversy before my book group picked it for this month.  I understood that it was coming from a sincere place.  I won’t go into it much here, but you can always do a search if you’re interested, there are lots of articles.  I read the first shocking and heartbreaking chapter and understood the hook.  I was drawn in right from the get go.

The story begins with the violent murders of Lydia’s family, fourteen in total, by the cartel in Acapulco.  Forced to flee with her son, this middle class bookstore owner has more means and motive than the average migrant heading north.  The two are literally running for their lives.  Luca is only a year younger than Gage and I would love to own a bookstore so I was perhaps extra invested in their plight.  The complexity of escaping the cartel and the stories of the people they met along the was eye opening.

I liked the way that the story was told with live action interspersed with significant flashbacks to give the story heft.  There was a humanizing of all of the characters that you don’t often find.  It’s a timely and important story with a perspective not many of us understand and for that reason alone it should be read.

My book group of ten all liked the book to varying degrees, except for the one who only made it to the 82% mark.  I found it hard to read about such a heartbreaking topic when I was so stressed and I do think that tempered my enjoyment of it.  I’m still glad that I read it.

14 thoughts on “American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

    • stacybuckeye says:

      Had I not read the criticism I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. I understand the part about wishing it had been written by a Latinx author, but that first chapter was gangbusters good, so I also understand that sometimes a good hook is all you need.

  1. Rosemary Wolfe, NoChargeBookbunch says:

    I agree with you about instantly getting “hooked” into the plot, and once I started I couldn’t put it down. I read it when it first came out, before the virus changed everything. I too had read about the controversy surrounding the author, but decided, despite its historical significance, it is fiction and still a good story.

  2. Lloyd Russell says:

    I read it as an ARC and finished it before I heard about the criticisms. I’m obviously in no position to comment on that. I definitely liked the book, though.

    Lloyd (408) 348-4849

  3. BermudaOnion says:

    I think most of the controversy stemmed from the way the book was marketed. It was compelling but I didn’t think it was particularly well written or believable. I really wondered about the friendship between Lydia and Javier – how could she not have known who he was?

    • stacybuckeye says:

      That was the number one question from the one who didn’t finish. I thought much of that part was romanticized, but since it is fiction it didn’t bother me too much. I don’t think that it was believable really, but did like the perspective and the journey. I gave it a 4/5, so I wasn’t wowwed.

  4. Susan says:

    I liked your review and it seems a fair assessment …. in these days post all of the controversy. I haven’t read it yet … but think I would like to. I’m sure I would get pulled in too.

  5. kaysreadinglife says:

    I shared our book group’s experience with this book – both the discussion and the fact that we had 32 people in attendance. That sort of made the discussion part complicated, but our leader did a great job. I liked the book itself well enough, but I also thought the author might have tried to do too many things with the book. I was not pleased with how the publicity was handled at all. Glad you got to read it, Stacy, and good to hear your thoughts on it.

    • stacybuckeye says:

      The publicity was not handled correctly for sure. The story itself was good, but the book never quite lived up to that first chapter for me. 32 people is a lot of people to handle!

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