Review of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
Cummins offers a fictional Mexican family’s urgent motivation, incredible fortitude, fears, failures, friendships, abuse, and successes during their unforgiving immigrant journey to the United States.
Through her American Dirt characters (both sympathetic and unsympathetic), Jeanine Cummins offers one fictional family’s plausible framework of urgent motivation, incredible fortitude, fears, failures, friendships, abuse, and sometimes successes during the unforgiving immigrant journey through Mexico and into the United States.
The oddly sympathetic and unlikely renaissance man of a drug lord felt implausible and distracting to me. And Lydia’s naïveté in trusting him (which helps lead to an enormous tragedy) was tough to take without wanting to scream.
But her descriptions are vivid and sometimes excruciatingly suspenseful—or hauntingly plodding as so much stays the same but a horrifying underlying fear pervades all.
The balance of unlikely joys and brutality puts fictional but plausible faces on an important situation.
Many issues have been raised regarding: Cummins's right and ability to tell this story as non-Latinx author; criticisms of some of the publisher's publicity decisions; and the need for more representation of authors of color on bookstore shelves and in our hearts and minds, among others. All of these valid points deserve discussion. Yet for what it's worth, I also think Cummins’s four years of research feel evident, and her respect for the subject matter is clear.
What did you think?
Swirling controversy has largely overshadowed the many strengths of this book. What do you think of the criticisms? Do you think American Dirt is valuable in terms of bringing light to important issues--whether through Cummins's writing or as a result of some of the surrounding missteps?