Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings

Initial thoughts

When I first read the description of this book online, I was immediately drawn to the suspense and adventure alluded to in the description. The story of how Lydia and Luca escape a dangerous drug cartel and venture North reminded me a lot of the 2007 film La Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon), in which a mother and son separate in Mexico and eventually re-unite in the United States. I excitedly started reading Chapter 1 of American Dirt and already felt like I was hiding in the bathtub along with Lydia and Luca from the gang members in Acapulco.

This was also my first time listening to a book on Audible, and I really enjoyed the experience. While there is a unique satisfaction that comes with holding a book (kindle) in your hands while reading, I enjoyed being able to listen to the book while coloring to ground myself.

Plot Description (without spoilers)

Lydia and Luca are a mother and son duo trying to escape the dangerous gang violence that has slowly but surely overtaken Acapulco. Sebastian, Lydia’s husband, is a journalist who has just published a piece exposing the drug cartel, Los Jardineros, and their leader Javier, also known as La Lechuza. After this piece is written, Javier orders for Lydia’s family, including Sebastian, to be killed. Lydia and Luca hide in the bathtub, breathless and not moving, while they hear and later, see their family members being murdered. When Lydia first met Javier in her bookstore, little did she know that he was the notorious drug lord responsible for the state of their town.

The novel follows Lydia and Luca’s journey as they venture North and try to escape the miserable violence and danger that awaits them in Acapulco. Trigger warning, there are instances of sexual assault and sexual violence in this novel.

Opinion and Reaction

I really loved this book because I felt like I was there with the characters. Cummings does a great job of using vivid descriptions and figurative language throughout the novel, so you really experience the pain, loss, anger, relief, and numbness along with the characters. The journey that Lydia and Luca embark on is an arduous one, and I felt like I was right next to them every step of the way. The emotions I experienced while reading this novel were a rollercoaster of sadness, relief, suspense and thrill, and just a general strong sense of hope that they would make it past each of their numerous hurdles.

At the end of the novel, I was so glad that I had read it. I felt truly honored to have been on that journey with the characters and realized the immense difficulty that Mexican and South American immigrants face in crossing the border to the United States. I could tell that Cummings had done her research when portraying her characters’ struggles and experiences. Her descriptions of Lydia and Luca’s reactions to trauma were also very vivid and real.

Controversy

It was only after reading this book that I saw the controversy about American Dirt. Many felt that this story was not the author’s story to tell, as a white woman writing about a fictional story involving a Mexican woman. Another term being used is trauma porn, which is “when the plights or traumas of a culture or race are used for entertainment”. After reading articles about how this is harmful to minorities and how some minority authors feel as though they are expected to write about issues like immigration, slavery, etc., while white writers have more freedom in what they choose to cover, I felt a little more educated about the issue. I can definitely understand the controversy and different viewpoints. While I do not identify with the Latinx identity, as a South Asian woman of color, I do strongly care about advocating for minorities and bringing light to their experiences. I am glad that Oprah decided to have a conversation with Latinx writers after hearing about the controversy after announcing the novel as part of her book club. I am glad that she used her platform to highlight this issue, and bring awareness to the lack of diversity in media, including the publishing industry. I hope that these conversations continue to be had and we continue to address these issues and advocate for change.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed this book and was absolutely blown away by how drawn I was to the characters. I would definitely recommend this book as a good suspenseful read and would also recommend anyone reading this book to also read about the controversy and issues brought up. I also enjoyed using Audible to listen to the book and am definitely pro-audiobook, (in addition to being pro-kindle). Let me know if you end up reading this book!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings

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