Synopsis (with Spoilers)
The book starts with the shooting that kills Lydia and Lucas’ family. The bullet coming in bathroom as Oprah calls it. Lydia and Lucas are the only ones who survive the tragedy because they were inside the house, and everyone else was outside for a quincenera. From the beginning Lydia knew it was the drug cartel, Los Jardineros. Everyone dies. All sixteen family members, including the father who is dead with a spatula in his hand and a sign on top of his dead body that reads, “My whole family is dead because of me.” That in itself is a bit dramatic. No narc would waste their time and write a sign on top of the body.
Soonly after the police arrive, Lydia tells her story of what happened, and realizes that she must run away of fear that the drug cartel would kill her and her son too.
While this story is being told, it gets interrupted by the subplot of Lydia and Javier before the tragedy. Lydia has a bookstore and Javier becomes a regular. They begin to flirt, and talk about books. All the while Lydia is still married! This weird dynamic between the two of them feels weird as Lydia’s husband isn’t too bothered by it. There is a moment in the book when Sebastian questioned her wife Lydia, she denies it, and there are no further questions. But the truth of the matter is that they were flirting with one another, and it could of been developed to something else but it didn’t.
The plot twist of the story is that Javier turns out to be head honcho of the drug cartel, while Lydia’s husband, Sebastian being the journalist that he is, exposed it in a story. Javier’s then daughter killed herself when she found out her dad was a narc from the article piece, and for revenge, Javier septs narcs to kill Lydia and her family.
Now that we know why, the rest of the story follows their migration story, as they take the bus, and ride the rest of their journey on the train. On La Bestia.
- Drug lords. An evident theme throughout the novel is how drug lords control all of Mexico. Although that is somewhat true, this theme is heavily exaggerated. As Mexicans, we are not victims to the violence but survivors to it. We navigate these spaces because we love Mexico. Mexico has pebbled stone streets, beautiful landscapes, and rich history that makes us wanna stay.
- The Mexican housekeeper. After Lydia migrates from Mexico and moves into Denver, she becomes a housekeeper. She doesn’t get a job at a bookstore or somewhere in retail, but as a housekeeper.
- Once you enter the USA, all of your problems are solved. There’s the underlying message in the novel that once you enter the USA, all of your problems get solved and that is not the case. There is heavy discrimination against migrants in this country, competitive pay for a job, and a current administration who don’t like immigrants.
- The journalist that gets killed by drug cartels. Drug cartels have killed many journalists as far as the 1860s, so this idea isn’t something new.
- The use of coyotes. I’m not very knowledgable in the use of coyotes, but in this novel, the coyote who smuggled Lydia and Luca into the country through the desert, charged $10,000. Coyetes in the USA charge many different prices from as low as $3,000 to $20,000 for one single person.
- The use of mainstream food items. There were a heavy focus on the use of conchas, a popular mexican pastry, birrea, and tortas. Although the use of these food items were interesting, there could of been many opportunities to inform the readership on food items that could only be found in Mexico. Like gorditas, tacos de lengua, barbacoa, tacos de tripa, etc etc etc.
What I liked about the book:
I liked how the book reminded me of my experiences in Mexico. This book gave me the opportunity to self reflect on myself, my heritage, and my position as an educated Latinx dual citizen living in the United States.
This book has became the catalyst for readers to read other books by Latinx writers. This book has created the dialogue of what happens when there isn’t a person of color sitting in the publishing office.
What I didn’t like about the book:
I mean this whole blog post was a huge explanation as to why I didn’t like the book. But in a nutshell, this book lacked the heavy pain of leaving your home. I would of loved to read Lydia saying that she will miss her bookshop. She will miss the mexican culture. She will miss the beautiful sights and greenery.
Instead, Cummins writes how Lydia has to leave Mexico because she has no other choice. Which is right, Lydia has no other choice. All of her family is dead, the drug cartel is after her, but wouldn’t Lydia miss Mexico?
What could of made it better:
- Introducing readers to places of Mexico that aren’t often talked about.
- Introducing readers to new food places that aren’t often talked about.
- Better emphasis on the use of trauma. Yes, this book did explain the trauma Lydia or Luca were feeling while they were on the run to the States, but it could been darker to make it seem more real.
Will I read more books by this author?
Most likely not. (Unless you want me to) Jeanine Cummins benefited from her white privilege to tell this story. Many Latinx writes have fought to get a decent pay for their stories to be told.
Follow the next page to read about the controversy around the book!
3 thoughts on “I Read American Dirt So That You Dont Have To |Book Review”
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!
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.