February 27, 2020
"Do you know anyone else who's lost sixteen family members in one day?" ~ pg. 64
Some books, you remember the characters. Some books remind you of close family or friends. Some books haunt you long after closing the spine. And some books, you remember how they make you feel. Then there are books, as is the case here, that will leave you with an unpopular opinion. The controversial new release, American Dirt, and current Oprah's Book Club selection has been discussed in and out of the media, among bookclub discussions and dragged in the Twitter streets. Well bookhearts, I am delivering this book review from a lonely corner because I am totally going against the grain on this one.
Confused? Google "American Dirt backlash" or "American Dirt controversy."
All caught up on the drama? You may now continue.
If every author only wrote about their own real-life experiences, the art of fiction would no longer exist. I read fiction because it is an escape from my own reality. It is a glimpse into the lifestyles of characters crafted by (mostly) talented writers. It offers themes in a slightly softer approach where it is easier to digest. It still brings awareness to issues that may affect our real lives, such as fear, corruption and justice. Let me be clear here: if I wanted to read about the "authentic" experience of a migrant or the cartel, I would choose a non-fiction book, memoir, autobiography, etc. As critics online so boisterously pointed out, there are plenty to choose from. Go read those then! But EYE chose to read the fictional telling of a migrant and deem American Dirt as one of the best books of 2020.
Main character, Lydia, lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore, has a wonderful marriage to a journalist named Sebastian, an impressive eight-year-old son named Luca and a comfortable life. For the most part, she is unaffected by the drug cartels taking over the city that her husband reports on. So when a charming man enters the bookstore and purchases two of Lydia's personal favorites, she does not recognize him as the new jefe of Los Jardineros cartel. Not until Sebastian's tell-all profile of Javier is published and all hell breaks loose. Friends become enemies. Peace becomes violence. Comfortability turns into fear. Lydia and Luca are instantly transformed into migrants and head el norte for safety. Their journey may be fictional but it is haunting nonetheless.
Here is a little tidbit: I do not read books in the chronological order of pages. I read the inside jacket first (or online summary). I flip to the title page just in case I'm lucky enough to be in possession of an autographed copy. I read the dedication page. I am nosy and want to know whom the book is dedicated to and why. Next, I skip to the back of book and check for book club discussion questions, a reader's guide, the number of pages and the Acknowledgments. Again, I am nosy so want to know to whom the author gives thanks. Then I read the Author's Note (very important in this case) before flipping back to the beginning to browse the Table of Contents. How many chapters? Is it alternate points of view? Is there a time jump from past to present? Then I finally proceed to read the story.
American Dirt is a prime example of why I read the Author's Note before diving into the story itself. Jeanine Cummins explains her reasons behind writing American Dirt, her research and writing process, and supporting facts about migrants along the United States-Mexico border. It set the tone and confirmed my decision to read American Dirt despite all the negative hype.
We all read for different reasons: escapism, entertainment, enlightenment, obligation or out of boredom. Whatever the reason, you have a right to choose the stories you allow in your space. Maybe my review will persuade you to read American Dirt or maybe it won't. Just know that I took one deep inhale before diving into this story and did not exhale until the very last page was turned. The story of Lydia, Luca, Javier, Sebastian, Rebeca, Soledad and other minor characters will not flee my mind anytime soon. Well done, Jeanine Cummins!
Title: American Dirt
Author: Jeanine Cummins
Published: January 2020
Rating: 🖤 🖤 🖤 🖤 🖤