Title: American Dirt
Author: Jeanine Cummins
Publication Date: 21 Jan 2020
Source: ARC sent by Flatiron books
One Sentence Synopsis
Lydia and her son, Luca, are the sole survivors after the local drug cartel murders their entire family and flee to the United States to escape.
Honestly, nothing. Continue reading to find out why.
Thank you to Flatiron Books for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
If you’ve been around my blog for a bit, you’ll know that American Dirt was one of my most anticipated books of 2020. I read an excerpt of it forever ago and absolutely loved it. I was completely sucked into the story and needed to know how it continued. I was pleasantly surprised when I received an ARC from Flatiron Books and it was one of the first books I wanted to read in January.
And then, almost as soon as I started reading it, I stumbled upon the controversy. I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t find out about it sooner, to be honest. As soon as I knew it was a thing, it seemed to be EVERYWHERE! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, many Latinx authors and reviewers were upset that this book was getting so much hype when it A) is not own voices and there are a ton of own voices immigration stories that get ignored and B) is pretty damn racist. I was disappointed and considered not reading the book at all, but I did get an ARC and it just wouldn’t feel right to not read and review something I was sent for free.
So I read it.
And, dear God, it was worse than I thought.
We start with the part that admittedly got me hooked: a massacre at a quinceañera. Lydia and her son, Luca, are the sole survivors of a hit against Lydia’s husband, a reporter who focused on writing about the local drug cartel. Lydia knows that neither her nor her son are safe if they don’t get away from the cartels, so she decides that they will escape to the United States of America. This is all weirdly complicated by the fact that Lydia had become friends with the jefe of the cartel.
Which is one of the first things that threw me off and a symptom of one of the problems with this book. It felt like Lydia’s random friendship with the jefe felt like it was only there to add an extra layer of drama. To make it that much more insidious when Lydia’s “friend” orders the death of her entire family. There were other aspects of the story that felt like they were just dropped in for shock value, as well. The whole thing read like trauma porn and I did not care for it.
Beyond that, the writing was so overwrought. It was trying so hard to be poetic and evocative and it just… didn’t work for me. For example, soon after the massacre, Luca notices a new expression on his mother’s face and it’s described as follows:
“It’s as if seven fishermen have cast their hooks into her from different directions and they’re pulling all at once. One from the eyebrow, one from the lip, another at the nose, one from the cheek. Mami is contorted.”
Like… what? And the entire book is like this. I can’t, ya’ll. I just can’t.
Oh, and let’s talk about how this book is basically a racist caricature of Mexico. Actually, let me point you to someone who I feel is more qualified to talk about this extremely problematic aspect of the book. Please read Myriam Gurba’s review on her blog. Her review is own voices and her it is a thing of beauty. I could never put it better than she did, especially since I am not Latinx, so I’m not even gonna try. There is also an excellent article by David Bowles that talks about how the publishing industry missed the mark with this book.
The only good thing I can say about American Dirt is that it was certainly fast-paced. The plot does not let up from page one. You’re always kept on your toes and wondering what sucker-punch is coming next. But that’s about all it has going for it.
Anyways. No final thoughts for this one. I’m just gonna leave a link to a Yes article about books by Latinx authors you can read instead of this dumpster fire. Enjoy!