book review

I Read American Dirt So That You Dont Have To |Book Review

Author: Jeanine Cummins
Publish Date: January 21, 2020
Pages: 400
Genres: Hispanic American Literature, Thriller, Psychological Thriller
Themes: On the run, family bonds, trust, money as the root of all evil
My Rating:★★☆☆☆

Where to buy this book:

You may know about this book because it’s being widespread as we speak, or because of it’s heavy criticism that it’s been receiving. In this book review, I’m going to address all the goods and bads about the book.

Now, I hardly ever read new releases. I usually wait a few weeks until a book has been reviewed and then I usually pick it up. This time around, I will say that I was well aware of this book hitting the shelves when I was researching books being published in 2020 and I immediately wanted to read it. I was interested in the book of because of how it was marketed. The promo had Stephen King blurbed saying it was, “An extraordinary piece of work, a perfect balancing act with terror on one side and love on the other.” Also, Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street said, “This book is not simply the great American novel; It’s the great novel of Las Amricas.” After reading those two comments, I was hooked. The marketing did it’s job of being interesting to read about. As a Mexican American citizen, these stories of migrants crossing to America is all my family and I talk about. But then I read this book and realized, this book relies heavily on stereotypes and does not, whatsoever reflect today’s migrant story.

Table of contents:
Page 1: Spoil free book review
Page 2: Spoiled, detailed book review
Page 3: Addressing the controversy

Synopsis

In my own words, this book follows the story of a mother named Lydia, and her 8 year old son named Luca, who have to flee their hometown of Acapulco after a drug cartel has murdered Sebastian, a journalist covering the drug cartels in their home state of Guerrero. The drug cartel also murdered 16 other members of their family, leaving Lydia and Luca no choice but to flee to el norte. The rest of the story follows their journey as migrants fleeing from Guerrero, to the United States.

Synopsis from the Publisher

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.

Already being hailed as “a Grapes of Wrath for our times” and “a new American classic,” Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope.

Dear White People Who Are/Read/Want to Read this Book

  1. If you wanna read this book, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart because you have joined to read about our Latinx community.
  2. I don’t question your position to read or write our stories about the Latinx community. If anything, I encourage you to read more. I just have to be self-critical about this book because it has the potential of harming our community.

Spoilers Without Context

Do I recommend this book?

Yes and no. As Mexican American, I’m not offended by this book, but I am bothered. It bothers me that a white woman wrote a story from the Latinx community, using stereotypes. Yes, there are drug cartels in Mexico, and they are law enforcement deputies who are corrupt, but there is more to Mexico than its controversies. Mexico has great culture, food, and artitechture. I love Mexico and visit every chance that I get.

She also uses the stereotype of journalists getting killed by drug cartels. These are type of stories that have been prevalent since the 1860s.

But in some ways, this book is interesting and does show the side of a mother doing whatever she can do, for a better future for her son. This book does have pathos that relate the experience of mothering an eight year old son.

This book does strike a cord with some readers because it reads like a thriller. As much as I disliked this book, I was hooked because it read like a thriller. Many readers read this and self reflect on their migrant stories. But they reflect and not relate to this story. There’s a difference.

Is this the grapes of wrath of our time? Does this book cover thee migrant story? No. This is just a book about a middle aged women with lots of money in the bank, able to get her and her son across Mexico to the United States. It’s her socio-economic privilege that makes this a successful migrant story.

I don’t question Jeanine’s freedom of expression. I just wish she would of done more research into the Latinx community, made her characters strong and alive off the page, and told a story about a migrant who doesn’t have the money to get their way into the country.

In short: I don’t recommend this book because it’s a watered down story of a migrant who’s able to cross into the country with a load of money, while using Mexican stereotypes to tell its story. If you want to read this story, go ahead! I read it quickly because it felt like I was reading a thriller and Cummin’s language and syntax is enough to stay for the ride.

Before you read this book know:

  1. This book has been heavily criticized as a bad portrayal of the Latinx community by many Latinx scholars.
  2. This book sold for seven figures, while other real latinx writers struggle to get paid fairly or even get their stories published into, “the main stream.”
  3. This book does have sensitive material such as rape and violence.
  4. It does use Spanish words throughout the book. I read the kindle version so I’m not sure if it has a translation, but my version didn’t.
  5. It does speak on stereotypical Mexican tropes such as gang violence, tourism, and violence.
  6. It’s currently the #1 Best-selling book on the New York Times bestsellers list and that’s all with the help of Oprah as it’s her book club’s selection for the time being.
  7. This book is mediocre-d researched. It does speak on La Bestia, and the use of coyotes.
  8. There are other stories that speak on the migrant stories. Follow the link to that list here.
  9. Lots of white of people are reading this story, believing that this is our experience. It’s our job to fully educate with facts about the humanitarian crisis that’s happening with migrants traveling into the States.
  10. This book will force you to suspend your disbelief.

Quotes:

“That these people would leave their homes, their cultures, their families, even their languages, and venture into tremendous peril, risking their very lives, all for the chance to get to the dream of some faraway country that doesn’t even want them.” 

“From now on, when we board, each time we board, I will remind you to be terrified,’ she says. ‘And you remind me, too: this is not normal.’
‘This is not normal.’ Soledad nods.

Read down below onto the next page for a more detailed review, with spoilers onto page 2. You might as well read the review with spoilers since it’s not worth the read.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your book review. I am a bit curious on reading this book if not just to see how far off she is from a true migrant story. I my self did not have to enter this country illegally but I do have family and friends that have not been so lucky. Most of them were leaving Mexico due to economics and chasing after the American Dream!

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  2. I am commenting as a nonwhite and nonimmigrant. When I first heard about American Dirt, the story appealed to me. Then the controversy started and I wasn’t sure. But I decided to read it in order to form my own opinion. I thought it was very good and rang true. I’m sure there are many immigrant experiences. I don’t have a problem that a non Mexican, non immigrant wrote the story.
    Stereotypes? I’m sure there are people like the ones in the book. Not all the characters were bad people. The author depicted good people both among the migrating group and those they met along the way. Maybe Cummins’ point was despite Lydia’s finances, her journey was not necessarily any easier. Reading this book might help some people have a better understanding of this type of immigrant experience and have empathy for those who can not enter El Norte through “legal” ports of entry.

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