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American Dirt

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2020)
Jeanine Cummins's American Dirt, the #1 New York Times bestseller and Oprah Book Club pick that has sold over two million copies, is finally available in paperback.

Lydia lives in Acapulco. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while cracks are beginning to show in Acapulco because of the cartels, Lydia’s life is, by and large, fairly comfortable. But after her husband’s tell-all profile of the newest drug lord is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and Luca find themselves joining the countless people trying to reach the United States. Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

459 pages, Hardcover

First published January 21, 2020

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About the author

Jeanine Cummins

16 books4,649 followers
Jeanine Cummins is the author of four books: the bestselling memoir A Rip in Heaven, and the novels The Outside Boy, The Crooked Branch, and American Dirt. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.

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Profile Image for David.
Author 58 books1,005 followers
January 3, 2023
I am Mexican American.

I DON'T READ THE COMMENTS [ANYMORE...clearly I was reading them early on, as you can see on the first few PAGES of comments]. You're free to talk amongst yourselves, however!

[edit]For a deeper, nuanced conversation from a panel of Mexican American poets, professors, bloggers, librarians, poets laureate ... watch this video: https://youtu.be/O3UrtFJtAYQ

Also, as part of the #DignidadLiteraria team, I met with Flatiron / Macmillan. Here's the press conference announcing the commitment to Latinx equity the publisher made: https://youtu.be/2U8nEgaXzT4

And here's an article from LIBRARY JOURNAL about how our efforts have transformed Flatiron / Macmillan: https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detai... [/edit]

Jeanine Cummins' American Dirt is a novel about a Mexican bookseller who has to escape cartel-related violence with her son, fleeing to the US. Cummins received a seven-figure advance for this book. And it's harmful, appropriating, inaccurate, trauma-porn melodrama.

Problem 1: The Author. Let me start with the obvious: Cummins has never lived even within five hundred miles of Mexico or the border. In fact, until very recently, she didn't lay claim to the Latinx heritage that comes to her through a Puerto Rican grandmother. Just five years ago, she was calling herself white. Latina or no, Cummins certainly isn't Mexican or Chicana. That's a problem.

If you don't know this, Mexican writers are horribly underpaid. Women writers in Mexico, more so. And Chicanx authors suffer marginalization in the US market. As a Mexican American writer, I have seen my Chicana and Mexicana colleagues struggle to get their stories told, to get their manuscripts into the hands of agents and past the publishing industry's gatekeepers.

While I have nothing against Jeanine's (or anyone else's) writing a book about the plight of Mexican women and immigrants (especially if they do their homework and don't exoticize our culture), I am deeply bothered that this non-#OwnVoices novel has been anointed the book about the issue for 2020 (with a seven-figure advance, no less) with glowing reviews from major newspapers and the support of big names in US publishing.

Such reception is especially harmful because authentic stories by Mexicanas and Chicanas are either passed over or published to significantly less fanfare (and for much less money). There's been strong pushback, especially Myriam Gurba's masterful take-down of the book (that magazines refused to publish) and Parul Sehgal's examination of how the book "flounders and fails."

Author Daniel Peña characterizes the book in stark terms: "lab-created brown trauma built for the white gaze and white book clubs to give a textural experience to people who need to feel something to avoid doing anything and from the safety of their chair."

US readers would be MUCH better off diving into one of the many books on immigration by ACTUAL Chicanx and Mexican writers that already exist. I mean, Cummins sure did:

"My research started with reading everything Luis Alberto Urrea ever wrote. Then I read everything else I could find about contemporary Mexico and by contemporary Mexican writers. Then I read everything I could find about migration. Sonia Nazario's Enrique's Journey is magnificent. So is The Beast by the Salvadoran writer Óscar Martínez." (from her Shelf Awareness interview)

Yet even after reading EXISTING works, Jeanine Cummins STILL felt SHE needed to write about the plight of Mexican immigrants. Ostensibly, however, she was conflicted and nervous. On the one hand, she admits to Alexandra Alter of the New York Times: "I don't know if I'm the right person to tell this story." And in the afterword of her book, she worries that "privilege would make [her] blind to certain truths," wishing that someone "slightly browner than [her] would write it."

But on the other hand … she still wrote it. After talking to various Mexicans on the border, this was her response: "Every single person I met made me more and more determined to write this book." Cummins was concerned, she claims, that people at the border were being depicted as a "brown, faceless mass." She wanted to give them a face. To be their white savior.

Of course, she conveniently forgot about the very #OwnVoices books she had mined for ideas and cultural texture. In the midst of this literary amnesia, she decided to make millions off the pain and struggle of women from a completely different culture.

Why does her identity even matter? Because she gets nearly everything wrong as a result.

Problem 2: The Content
For example, Cummins screws up Spanish egregiously (especially nuances in Mexican Spanish). First, when depicting Spanish-language dialogue as English, she sprinkles it with Spanish words, which is ridiculous ("Hola, abuela" is just "Hello, Grandma," in English, not "Hello, Abuela," as Cummins prefers). Even if we accept this as poetic licence to add cultural texture, she does it poorly, never using Mexican Spanish terms, just sterile, standard ones. If you're going to add spice, make it chile, Jeanine.

Actual examples of Spanish are wooden and odd, as if generated by Google Translate and then smoothed slightly by a line editor. The Spanish is … not idiomatic at all.

Cultural references are often missed, and Lydia Quixano Pérez (what a name, huh) is ignorant of things that any Mexican knows. For example, learning a cartel leader is called "La Lechuza" (which Cummins incorrectly glosses as "the Owl") Lydia laughs. Owls aren't scary, she insists.

Now, a "lechuza" is a screech owl. They have been feared throughout Mexico for literally THOUSANDS OF YEARS, considered harbingers of death, witches in disguise. Lydia's reaction is that of the White readers, not actual Mexicans. And this is just one of literally dozens of examples.

People are stereotypes in this novel, participating in stereotypical activities (quinceañeras, for example). They live in a flattened pastiche version of Mexico, a dark hellhole of the sort Trump rails against, geographically and culturally indistinct. Lydia and Luca - despite having money - escape to the precious freedom of the US aboard La Bestia (that dangerous, crime-infested train) because of COURSE they do. But they don't suffer the maiming, abuse, theft, and rape so common on that gang-controlled artery to the border. It's all very Hollywood, very best-selling thriller.

And the characters. Gah. I am close friends with people from all social classes in Mexico, including light-skinned, middle-class, book-loving women like the protagonist ostensibly is. But none of the peculiarities of those lives and experiences make their way into this novel. Instead, Lydia and Luca feel like a White US mother and her son, with nominally Mexican names slapped on, sprinkled with a bit of lime and salt. They could easily appear in a Gillian Flynn novel with little adjustment at all. Furthermore, Cummins clearly wants us to be startled at how "erudite" and "elegant" some of the males are. "OMG! Really?" I imagine some US reader gasping. "In Mexico? Aren't all men uncouth swarthy beasts?"

And frankly, I've barely scratched the surface here. Setting aside the melodramatic plot and mediocre writing, there is so much more to say, especially about how this book (which the editor characterizes as "a portrait of a nation and a people under siege") does little to explore the complicity of the US in the violence wracking Mexico. In avoiding politics, Cummins ends up implicitly blaming the victim.

Let me be clear: because American Dirt contains multiple inaccuracies and distortions, the White US readership in particular will come away with a stylized understanding of the issues from a melodramatic bit of literary pulp that frankly appears to have been drafted with their tastes in mind (rather than the authentic voices of Mexicanas and Chicanas).

Ah, and there's the rub. White folks and other non-Mexican Americans in the US: you CANNOT judge for yourselves whether American Dirt is authentic. You're going to have to trust Mexicans and Chicanx folks. I know that runs counter to the upbringing of so many. I know it defies our national discourse. Pero ni modo. That's too bad.

At a time when Mexico and the Mexican American community are reviled in this country as they haven't been in decades, to elevate this inauthentic book written by someone outside our community is to slap our collective face.

Books I suggest reading instead of (or in conversation with) American Dirt:

-Reyna Grande: Dream Called Home & Distance Between Us
-Luis Urrea: Devil's Highway, Into the Beautiful North
-Cristina Henríquez: Book of Unknown Americans
-Ana Raquel Minian: Undocumented Lives
-Anabel Hernández: Massacre in Mexico
-Guadalupe García McCall: All the Stars Denied
-Yuri Herrera: Signs Preceding the End of the World
-Valeria Luiselli: Tell Me How It Ends
-Oscar Cásares: Where We Come From
-Alfredo Corchado: Homelands
-Javier Zamora: Unaccompanied
-Daniel Peña: Bang
-Sylvia Zéleny: The Everything I Have Lost
-Sara Uribe: Antígona González
-Silvia Moreno García: Untamed Shore

Read the full version of this review here: https://medium.com/@davidbowles/non-m...

Here's my follow up discussion of Cummins' enablers: https://medium.com/@davidbowles/ameri...

Here's my article in the NEW YORK TIMES diving even deeper into the source and repercussions of the controversy: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/27/op...

Here's my fourth piece, "American Dirt: Dignity & Equity" -- https://medium.com/@davidbowles/ameri...
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,633 followers
February 3, 2020
I doubt there is a single person here on Goodreads that has not heard at least a hint of the controversy surrounding this book. I’m also confident that nearly every reader has at least a basic idea of the synopsis of American Dirt. So, I’m not really touching either of those elements in my review. I am a white woman, living in upstate New York, thousands of miles from Mexico. I have no real personal experience regarding the Mexican migrant issue, and therefore cannot speak to whether or not author Jeanine Cummins writes a genuine representation of the crisis or not. I don’t even dare to attempt to do so. What I can write about, however, is my own reading experience of this novel.

First of all, I was super excited to pick up this book. I lovingly cataloged it at my library when it first arrived. I put my name first on the list to get it on publication day. After all, it was hailed as “a new American classic” and was compared to the masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath. Naturally, this did give me pause, because both are tall orders to fill. Could this proclamation be true?! And it’s such a relevant topic! I need to read this book.

I like to learn something when I read. Even if a book is labeled as fiction, I hope to garner some useful information regarding the topic surrounding a group of fictional characters. I want to feel as if I am in the shoes of a character or two, understanding what they are enduring for this short period of time we are together. To my disappointment, I was completely underwhelmed by American Dirt. It was far too melodramatic for my taste.

It starts with a big bang right from page one. But for me it was too much. It seemed to be forced in order to provide the catalyst for the rest of the novel, an extravagant attempt to try to gain my sympathy. I felt an instant disconnection from the characters. I tried to remain hopeful about accompanying Lydia and Luca on their harrowing journey through Mexico towards their one glimmer of hope, the United States. And there were scenes that were charged with danger. Naturally, I hoped this pair and their fellow migrants would survive the risks. One additional thing that bothered me throughout – some characters were just not believable. I couldn’t help but think repeatedly “would so-and-so really act or speak this way in this situation?” One example would be too-wise beyond his years, eight-year-old Luca. I was further bothered by what seemed like an abundance of clichés. For example, the beautiful teenaged girl from Honduras – the threat of rape menaced her at every turn. Why not the arguably less stunning but perhaps still attractive mother of a little boy? Would not any migrant woman be at risk from such danger? I guess what I’m trying to say is that the characters were more like cut-outs, in my opinion. I missed the depth of characterization that I find so appealing in my favorite kind of novel. It doesn’t help that while reading this one, I also had the pure pleasure of another book that really did tick off all the boxes – including nuanced characters, equally relevant social and political issues, and perilous situations.

I wouldn’t tell anyone they should not read this book. If it at all interests you, by all means, pick it up and make your own judgments. For me, the writing was mediocre and I was disappointed to remain a far-removed observer. None of the thousands of miles separating my home from the Mexican border were diminished after finishing the last page. But I truly hope it does get people talking about an extremely important issue. The best way to read this would be with a buddy, so you can bounce ideas off one another. I may not have made it to the end otherwise - muito obrigada, Pedro! I will continue my quest to become more educated on the topic.

For an engaging write-up of this book, please visit my buddy's review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,194 reviews40.5k followers
November 9, 2021
What a mind blowing beginning of a book! A mother, Lydia and her little boy, Luca hid themselves in the bathtub for not being other victims of family massacre. The contract killers/ most dangerous drug-lord’s dirtbags kept looking for them, firing their guns, calling their names. And finally they thought they were not at the house so they left the place and 16 innocent victims behind.

Now mother and her son have to leave the country for staying alive because one of the powerful men is chasing them and he is determined to finish his massacre that he already started. The man, Javier Crespo Fuentes, once upon a time he was her friend. They talked about books, shared their secrets, formed a close relationship till one day Lydia’s reporter husband Sebastian wrote an article about Javier…The day the article had published their life’s direction had also traumatically changed.

So now, Lydia’s husband, mother, sister and her children are dead! Only she and her son stayed alive from vengeful attack of the cartel. And now their thrilling, heartbreaking, dangerous journey begins. They race against the time, authorities and killers at the same time. So keep still at the edge of your seats and take deep breathes to calm your nerves! This book will increase your heart rates and blow your mind by making you agitated, anxious but stop squirming nervously, just keep on reading, don’t you want to know what will happen to those innocent mother and her brilliant, smart son?

Let me tell you something, they say: “destination not important but the journey” but this time it works quite opposite at this book because throughout this long journey, the mother and son walked, hid, slept in different places, ran from dangerous people, jumped into the trains, put their lives in danger, met with different people who had amazing experiences and life stories.

This journey makes you up all night to read more, learn more, ache more, fists clenched, eyes filled in tears. You whisper prayers slowly to wish the characters can escape from the real monsters are living in our modern world. Not only mother and son but the people they’ve met especially the sisters helped them will always stay in my heart and soul forever because they’re so realistically developed, well-build characters who have heart-wrenching stories.

I think instead of the beginning of this story, author’s note part is also impressive. It summarizes all those people including me who came to this land to chase their dreams, deal with our disappointments and learn from our mistakes to try again. On the border wall of Tijuana, there is wonderful piece of graffiti. When the author feel faltered or discouraged, she clicks to her desktop and look at those words: “On this side, too, there are dreams”

Everyone has different dreams but sometimes making too many sacrifices and leaving your old lives and old selves behind might be too tough and compelling for you so sometimes you just procrastinate or give up on them. This book could be dedicated to the dreamers who are brave enough to leave, who have nothing to lose, make so much sacrifices and pay so many dues to fight with everything they have and finally reach their destinations!

Maybe it is too early to say that but I think this will be one of the most stunning, impressive and fascinating readings of 2020.

Special thanks to Netgalley and Flatiron Book for sharing this amazing ARC COPY with me in exchange my honest review!
Profile Image for Felicia.
254 reviews930 followers
December 9, 2021
Ok seems like a bunch of privileged 'let me show you how woke I am' white people have decided they can speak for the Latin community.

This is a work of FICTION. Google it if you don't understand. The author owes you nada. Move on. Get over yourself. Fuck off.

To say that a non Latina has no right to write about Latin issues is absurd. Tell that to all of the writers of WWII fiction. Again with that word fiction.

Any book that shines light on a dark subject is a good thing. Any book that gets people talking about the plight of others is a good thing.

You caucasians leaving comments purporting to speak for people of color is fucking hilarious. Hypocrite much?

As for your comments about Crawdads. No I haven't read it (which I stated in my review) but that doesn't make me ignorant of the fact that it was top of the bestsellers list since it's debut. Jfc go read a book.

I've given my last fuck.

Original Review:

No doubt this will be THE book of 2020.

The Where The Crawdads Sing book of 2020.

I've never read Crawdads and I wouldn't have read American Dirt if not so kindly offered the opportunity by the publisher.

This is so far from my usual genre.

Give me a thriller any day.

I want to feel compelled to flip the pages while balancing on the edge of my seat.

I want to lose sleep because I can't put a book down, a heart racing, just one more chapter type of story.


This book was nothing like what I was expecting and everything I could ever hope for.

Cummins has written a gripping and compelling narrative that every American should read. Unfortunately, those that need this message the most will refuse this book out of spite and/or the inability to read.

If that statement offends you, then you are exactly who it is directed towards.

** Thank you Hachette Australia for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. **
Profile Image for Myriam.
Author 11 books707 followers
January 16, 2020
I wish I could give this book negative stars because it is, as its title attests, dirt.

It is also profoundly racist.

Here is my essay about the dissent surrounding this book, dissent that is being erased, disappeared and silenced:

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,001 reviews35.9k followers
January 22, 2020
That beginning is gripping!!!

The most anticipated novel for 2020 - has the word controversy around it.
I wasn’t even aware of the controversial issues until yesterday.

As pure FICTION - it’s sooooo engaging!!
“In a different life, he could have been someone good”.
“This isn’t a different life”.

Much to engage your thinking...
How in the world does one debate the degrees of violence?

It changes something inside us!
Plus... It’s not easy to stop thinking about the characters and all they were dealing with.

I can’t think of any relationship more primal than a mother/child one.
I thought about....
“How does fear, grief, love, irrational love...justify our actions?
How do we deal with the complexity of good and evil mixed with love?”

The controversy over “American Dirt”, is becoming as interesting as this novel itself. Has me pondering both sides.
a book that stirs our emotions and thoughts, as much as this book does.....
is definitely BUZZ WORTHY...
...for lack of a better word: ‘entertaining’....

I’ve experienced being on both sides of ‘positive/negative’ - books....
heated- debates a couple of times.

In “Baby Teeth”, by Zoje Stage, I was on the negative side.
A New York newspaper quoted me as calling it “fiction nonsense”.
Many readers praised it with high ratings.
What was garbage to me was fascinating for others.

In “American Dirt”.... I’m on the positive side. The storytelling is addicting.....thought-provoking....compassionately well written....and timely.

The *hype* started out gradually...
and gradually continued to grow.

Negative reviews started gradually...
but then.....
the ’controversy-wheel’, kicked in fast...
than all the tea made in China.
There are several ‘Dunkin-Slam’ -nasty comments about this book. Things I hadn’t thought about.
Even being a new Oprah pick is controversial. But maybe that happens often with Oprah picks?

Comparison to “The Grapes of Wrath”....
as the new modern American novel.....
is also creating debatable conversations.
I definitely see the comparison - understand it anyway.
I just think ( and agree), that people who loved this novel as I did - and for many reasons- are TRYING to express how powerful and real this book feels.

“Why the extreme divisions on this book? Why all the attention?” Perhaps ‘all sides’ are coming from the same place?
People ‘care’!!!
Our tender sensitive sides don’t want to see others suffer, be abused, treated unfairly, or killed.

In my opinion...
“Any ‘die-hard-reader’, would be a fool not to investigate all the hullabaloo....
surrounding “American Dirt”.
One needs to read it first.

...Two thumbs up from me!
...I lost two nights of sleep.
...Daytime plans were canceled.
...Read with urgency.

A little question for those who have read it??
What book do you think inspired Luca to talk?

And... to everyone else....
What book would you like to read over and change the ending to be happier?

riveting and extraordinary!!!!!

Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
January 27, 2020
I wanted to read this novel because of the praise and high ratings by a number of my trusted Goodreads friends. Then just before I started to read it, I became aware of the criticisms in both the literary and press at large and I made the decision not to read any more of those articles until I finished the book. You’ll have to read the criticisms for yourself and decide whether you think the book is worth reading.

In spite of everything said about the novel, I found it to be riveting, informative, suspenseful, heartbreaking and hard to put down . It’s 400 pages and I read it in two days. It’s the harrowing journey of migrants from Mexico, running for their lives, not to find a better life with more opportunity, but running to save their lives. There’s so much out there on this, you can easily find enough on the plot and characters, so I’m not going to talk about those here. I will say that the grief, the fear, the uncertainty, what people will do to save their loved ones and themselves was impactful. I found the last third of the book especially gripping.

There are very few perfect books and few that meet up to the hype. While this isn’t one of them, I think this novel has a lot to offer. Some of the criticisms may certainly be valid, but they didn’t diminish the importance or relevance of the story, at least not for me. If nothing else, hopefully productive conversations and awareness will be generated about the issues that the critics raise, as well as the timely issue of immigration.

I read this with Diane and Esil and I so much appreciated having them to discuss this with.
Profile Image for Robin.
484 reviews2,616 followers
February 3, 2020
Good god.

I know there's an angry wasp nest of controversy surrounding this book (about cultural appropriation, about misappropriation, about racism in the publishing industry, about Oprah and her sticker-of-doom, about a book launch decorated with barbed wire, about a white person writing a story for other white people so they can feel better about themselves and more enlightened in regards to the Mexican migrant's plight, and so on, and so forth).

But I'm not going to go there. I'm a Canuck in snowy Montreal, it's probably not my place to go there.

Besides, I just can't seem to get myself jazzed up about all that. (Though, for the record, I do believe in the fiction writer's right to write about whatever floats their boat.) I just CAN'T. How can I get myself stirred and feeling strongly about a book like this? A book so full of cliches, overdosed with melodrama, stuffed to the gills with unbelievable characters including an 8 year old Mexican boy with an Italian name who sounds like a perimenopausal woman... essentially, a book written so badly that the feeling I had the whole time reading was "I can't believe I am reading this." And seething because of the time stolen from reading other worthy novels.

What I CAN get worked up about is the sacrilege of the blurb on the book's cover, likening it to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Don Winslow should be ashamed.

The silver lining, of course, is that a) I've already reached the low point of my reading year, yay! and b) because of this book, I will emerge with a new awareness of worthwhile Latinx writers to add to my TBR.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,143 reviews2,491 followers
February 10, 2020
4.5 stars
Is this the definitive immigrant experience? I’m not naïve enough to think so. This is fiction.
Were there clichés or negative stereotypes? Not that I could see. Instead, this book destroyed the stereotypes. As the author notes in her epilogue the people are not “faceless brown masses”, an often quoted phrase by the naysayers taken totally out of context – it’s an image the author says she tried (quite successfully) to dispel. The people crossing into our borders are individuals with backstories and unique reasons for coming here. The humanitarian concerns of our fellow human beings touched my heart while delivering a page-turning thriller.

As Lydia and her young son, Luca, fled for their lives, I felt I was in her shoes and quite literally held my breath more than once. This book puts a face to the plight of immigrants and the often harrowing journey they take to get here. It sent me to the internet to research for myself the conditions in Acapulco and what the drug cartels have done to make it one of the most dangerous places in Mexico. I read about “The Beast”, the train many migrants hop on, risking kidnapping, violence, and death in their long, hazardous journey to the U.S.

I’m shocked and disheartened that the author is being vilified and subjected to threats of violence. Ugly, vile things have been said about her. Over fiction, people! This is nothing short of bullying and censorship. It’s a slippery slope when we have readers leave one star “reviews” of a book they haven’t read or change a 4 or 5 star rating to a one star after being “enlightened”. Readers are entitled to their opinions.

The author, as stated, is a bridge. She spent four years researching the book and the epilogue left me with even more respect for her. Don’t we need as many voices as possible telling the story? Let the book open hearts and minds and start a civil discussion of the issues. I bought a hardback copy to support the author in the midst of this nonsense, and have no regrets. If you want to support the movement, read this book, followed by an #ownvoices book(s).

* this was a buddy read with Marialyce and a book we both enjoyed. For our duo review please visit https://yayareadslotsofbooks.wordpres...-
* please note if you want to have an honest discourse and a civil discussion, all comments are welcome. However, all rude comments from trolls will be deleted.
Profile Image for Kate Olson.
2,186 reviews724 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
April 21, 2022
UPDATE 4/21/22: I am laughing so hard now in April 2022 at my fury over this (written back in January 2020) because HA, old self, you HAD NO FUCKING CLUE what reality had in store in the coming months and years and it’s so damn cute that you had so much energy to be this furious over a middling to poor BOOK 🤣 But if anyone still wants to know what naive little righteous me thought back in ye olde before-times, read on if you must.

DNF the audiobook (free review copy from Libro.fm) at 15% for various reasons including overly dramatic writing that doesn’t fit my reading preferences, major representation issues and perpetuation of racist stereotypes.

ETA: I encourage readers to find books about this issue that more accurately depict Mexico and the immigrant experience. One excellent option would be this one:

The Devil's Highway: A True Story


ETA 3: Check out articles on NYT and The Guardian for more formal reviews about the controversy.



This one on the LA Times about it being Oprah’s pick is SIGH. Hypety-hype-hype. NO PRESS IS BAD PRESS when it comes to hype and book sales.


ETA 4: if you want Cliffs Notes on the issues surrounding this book


ETA 5:

YOU GUYS. THERE ARE PHOTOS OF AN AUTHOR EVENT FOR THIS BOOK IN WHICH THERE ARE FLORAL DECORATIONS FEATURING "BARBED WIRE / BORDER WALL CHIC". And in one of these links somewhere in here, OW says that Cummins "humanizes" the issue at the border. UMMMMMMMM. Don't the actual humans at the border humanize it? Like, there are HUMANS. AT THE BORDER. I forgive Oprah for making a mistake in picking this book. I don't forgive her for doubling down on her support.

Also, a good piece by Seattle Review of Books


And the best piece of all about it:


If you want a stellar #ownvoices publishing insider's take on the issue, check out a story highlight on Instagram by @nastymuchachitareads titled "AD + Publishing"

ETA 6:

Here's the original pic of the centerpieces, from a May 2019 event - a post via the author herself (I'm a librarian - I believe in verifying sources):


ETA 7:

NPR coverage from 1.24.20


LA Times article referenced in the NPR piece


ETA 8:

Oprah has now posted on IGTV and I’m sure elsewhere that she hears all the concerns and is going to have a conversation about the issue on AppleTV. Which I won’t see bc I don’t have that but at least she acknowledged it 🤷🏼‍♀️

ETA 9:

This episode on the 1A podcast from 1.28.20 is excellent regarding not just AD but why the publishing industry did what they did and do what they do


ETA 10:

Please listen to the Latino USA podcast episode from 1.29.20 about this issue

AND, Flatiron canceled the book tour. They issued a statement too. You can read it here:
https://lunch.publishersmarketplace.c... and click on "Full Statement" at the bottom to actually read it. There is massive controversy about the letter itself, my friends.

ETA 11:

I think I might be done updating this now. Bottom line? The more hype there is about a forthcoming book the more skeptical I’m going to be 🙄 ESPECIALLY if there’s any question about it being #ownvoices
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 7 books54.6k followers
January 25, 2020
UPDATE: I read this book in early fall 2019, before important critiques and interviews were published. Some commenters have helpfully linked those in comments so you can see some of what I'm referencing. I've cleared my star rating. I'm listening, I'm learning, I'm asking questions. I considered deleting my original review; for now I'm leaving it below.

I thought this was absolutely fantastic and I can't wait for everyone I know to read it so we can talk about it together. If you follow me, you know I have a sweet spot for what I like to call "compulsively readable literary fiction." This is it.

Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,733 reviews14.1k followers
January 27, 2020
3.5 Due to the controversy surrounding this book, Angela, Esil and I decided to make this our monthly read. Nice to bounce thoughts off of my trusted reading buddies. I was concerned I wouldn't be able to give this a fair and unbiased reading, so I tried not to look into this further, not read any other reviews, until finishing.

I found it to be surprisingly well done and on an important subject. I truly liked these characters and felt for what they had gone through and the effort it took for them to make the decisions they made. It definitely bought home the suffering of those arbour borders and what they had already gone through to make it this far. Eight year old Luca was my favorite, a young boy already wiser than his years who will see and experience things no child should. If there were cliches within, they passed me by. The authors note explains why she wrote this book and the research that went into the writing. Once again, I found her reasons more than credible.

Who owns a story, an idea? This is after all fiction, not non fiction. Doesn't this book and it's promotion get the plight of the migrants out there and in the public eye? Doesn't that have value in and of itself? How many, who have not even read the book just jumped on the bandwagon to be part of something? Isn't trying to condemn, squash the popularity of this book, another form of the relinquishing of our rights to freedom of the press? Just a few things to think about and then go and read the book yourself and form your own opinions.
Profile Image for Melissa ~ Bantering Books.
204 reviews783 followers
June 17, 2021
Be sure to visit Bantering Books to read all my latest reviews.

My mind has been hard at work the past two days.

It has been relentlessly spinning, attempting to organize all of my many, many, MANY thoughts about American Dirt. I have spent the last five days fully immersed in this novel, and I have much to say.

With American Dirt being so steeped in controversy, I had originally believed I would simply read and rate it. Keep my mouth shut. It would be, by far, the safest, most non-controversial course of action to take.

Aagh! But I can't do it. My feelings about the book are too strong to be silenced. I must share them, for better or for worse.

American Dirt follows the plight of Lydia Quixano Perez and her eight-year-old son, Luca, as they desperately flee Acapulco after surviving a violent shooting that murders their entire family. Fearing that she and Luca will continue to be hunted down by the cartel's jefe, Lydia decides that their only hope is to leave Mexico by way of La Bestia, the migrant trains that travel north toward the States.

Anyone who knows anything about this book knows how harshly it and the author, Jeanine Cummins, have been criticized by some. I've read the critiques and the "essays." I've examined the negativity. And while I will not reiterate and give further voice to that negativity, I will instead offer up my own thoughts.

To begin, I don't believe that anyone "owns" stories. Since the beginning of time, writers have basically been telling the stories of others. Some of the stories are true, while others are fictional, made up. It's what writers do. And simply put, this is what Cummins does with this novel -- she tells a fictional, made up story that gives the reader insight into the plight of Mexican migrants.

And Cummins has every right to tell it. Any and every writer has the right to tell it.

Please don't misunderstand -- I appreciate and totally get the importance of the #OwnVoices movement. Reading a novel written by an #OwnVoices author can provide an intimacy to a story that other writers may fail to achieve. The stories are deeply emotional and authentic; more visceral. We desperately need more of these stories.

But if we subscribe to the belief that stories are "owned" and that writers should only write about what they personally know and have personally experienced in their own lives -- if we then strip that argument down to the barest of bones -- that would mean J.R.R. Tolkien could never have written Lord of the Rings. There would be no Gone with the Wind. No Count of Monte Cristo. No 1984. None of the authors of these novels personally experienced the stories they so brilliantly told.

J.K. Rowling would never have brought to life a young wizard by the name of Harry Potter. (Gasp! Can you seriously imagine a world without Harry? I can't.)

Okay, okay . . . perhaps now I'm being slightly facetious.

But seriously, think about it.

Other people shouldn't have the ability to limit and dictate what writers can write. And writers shouldn't be punished for their stories either. An author should be able to tell whatever story he or she chooses, as long as the proper research, care, and sensitivity have been given to the narrative.

And after reading American Dirt, it is clear to me that Cummins did her research. It is clear that the story is one that is close to her heart. It is clear that she put her soul into the novel.

The writing is excellent. The narrative is intense and compelling. Emotion emanates from the pages.

The novel is not perfect, though. The story has its fair share of melodrama and is at times slightly overwritten. And the various obstacles Lydia and Luca face on their journey are often too conveniently resolved.

But American Dirt is a novel that should be read -- and deserves to be read.

So, read it. Make up your own mind. And even if you find that you agree with the criticism after you read it, at least you will have decided for yourself.

But also, please read it with an open mind, with a mind that isn't already made up by preconceived notions, and the thoughts and words of others.

That's all I ask.

And I think that is one of the most important responsibilities that we, as readers, bear, and of which we should never lose sight -- to always read with our minds . . . and hearts . . . open.

Bantering Books
Profile Image for etherealfire.
1,210 reviews208 followers
February 22, 2020
I've been dreading this review because I don't love writing reviews in the first place and - as everyone else on the planet undoubtedly knows - this book is steeped in controversy. I've read all kinds of viewpoints but I was unwilling to let any of them prejudge the book for me. My rating system is incredibly simple and completely subjective. If a story or the writing moves me, that book is going to get a high rating.

I've read that many people found the story over the top, or melodramatic or implausible. I cannot say that I felt the same to the extent that the story is fiction. The storytelling and the plight of the protagonists moved me to tears. The only thing that kept me from giving this book a five is because I have been unable to completely disregard the complaints about this not being written by a Mexican heritage person but.... I'm sorry but great writing (and as far as I'm concerned this qualifies as my experience of great writing) should not be disregarded because the person does not fit the descriptor of the protagonist. I support and read Own Voices books and I think there should be plenty more where that comes from. But I can't support the idea that this author's book is an obstacle to Own Voices or that there is no place for this book. I do think that the publishers handled this roll out poorly and that is probably an understatement on my part.

BTW, not that I suppose it really matters but I am half Peruvian; my dad immigrated to the US in 1956 on a scholarship to Purdue University and he arrived here at a time when it was relatively easy to immigrate - and as far as I'm concerned that is the way it should continue to be.

So while I'm not Mexican American, this story means a great deal to me. This book tells a story I desperately want people to hear, to be moved by and to understand - and to find their compassion and moral compass when discussing, thinking about and forming opinions on the plight of "illegal" immigrants. Any and every voice that can get the message across is welcome in my estimation, especially when that message is told in such a moving and compelling way.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
849 reviews5,823 followers
February 4, 2020
Also consider:
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera
Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora
Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez
The Devil's Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea
The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen
Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border by Octavio Solis
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli
Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria E. Anzaldúa
The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail by Jason De León
The Guardians by Ana Castillo
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko
The Crystal Frontier by Carlos Fuentes
All the Stars Denied by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Border Crosser With A Lamborghini Dream: Poems by by Juan Felipe Herrera
Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City by A.K. Sandoval-Strausz
All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the U.S. Borderlands by Stephanie Elizondo Griest
Where We Come From by Oscar Cásares
The Everything I Have Lost by Sylvia Aguilar-Zéleny
Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario
Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border by Luis Alberto Urrea
No Borders: A Journalist's Search for Home by Jorge Ramos
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
Macho!: A Novel by Victor Villaseñor
Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child by Elva Treviño Hart
No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the U.S.-Mexico Border by Justin Akers Chacón
Across a Hundred Mountains by Reyna Grande
Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience
No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant & First-Generation American Poetry an anthology by the truly amazing Carla Sofia Ferreira
The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 4: LatiNext

This is nowhere near a complete or even very large list of border literature by Latinx writers, please feel free to add more!
November 27, 2021

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DNF @ p.61

I don't like people telling me how to think and even though I respect the one-star reviews of people who were genuinely hurt by this book and felt like it dirtied or tarnished their culture, I do not support the people who are going onto the reviews of people who read or want to read this book and are telling them not to read it. 1) Since when has telling someone not to do something ever made them not want to do it? And 2) Attacking the readers is not going to fix the mistakes made by the author; there's a difference between politely commenting on a review and sending them a few links so they can make an informed consumer purchase and telling them straight up on that review that if they read the book they're a bad person and/or part of the problem.

That said, I have a lot of thoughts about this book and what it represents and the demographic it appeals to. Before I get into my review of the book itself, though, I'm going to repost my original thoughts on the controversy that were part of my "pre-review," as reading the book in question has only cemented what I thought before and actually raised new concerns and I do value transparency and want to have my original opinion stay intact.

1. Negative feedback sucks, but that's part of being an author-- especially when you write about a topic that is a pain point for a LOT of people (particularly under this administration). I think blocking the critics was a mistake on behalf of the author and (part of her) publishing team. I also think it's a mistake to package this as an #OwnVoices book-- and it isn't the author doing this, I've seen readers doing it too-- especially since the author is of Puerto Rican decent and this takes place in Mexico. That's like saying a book is #OwnVoices because it's about Chinese characters and the author is Korean. It homogenizes two very different cultures, which is offensive to both.

2. I wish the author acknowledged that her book was basically THE HELP for Mexican culture, in that it's a feel good story for white people (or at least people who don't identify as Latino) because it acknowledges all the stereotypes that they likely hold without challenging them or making them feel guilt. Stories like these might feel harmless because they don't seem racist on the surface but, again, the whole stereotype thing-- portraying Mexico as a shithole filled with gangbangers just kind of feels icky to me. Especially when the gold ring in her plight is the United States, her ticket to freedom. Ick.

3. I also wish that maybe the author had boosted the voices of the people she wrote about and researched from. From what I understand, there was a vaguely guilty author's note that made a lot of people mad. Using her platform the way Courtney Milan does, to talk about and promote important social issues, and name-drop people who do big and important things in human rights and social justice, would have made her seem more sincere. Instead of, you know, some of the other things that were allegedly posted.

4. I see a lot of people trying to play both sides because they don't want to feel guilty about liking the book. You can like the book but don't shut down the people who read this and felt hurt or dirtied by it. Everyone has a right to feel. If their commentary makes you feel guilty, then it might be an opportunity to ask yourself why you're feeling bad, and if maybe this is an opportunity for you to swallow your knee-jerk outrage and maybe just sit back and listen.

So, now the part you were waiting for: my review of the book. 

I'm going to be very brutally honest and say that AMERICAN DIRT is for Latino people (specifically Mexican culture) what MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and THE HELP were for Japanese and Black people, respectively. It takes various stereotypes about Mexican people (English-speaking intellectuals, cartel drug lords, hard working lower class, etc.) that are readily accessible and understood by white people and puts them in a book while purporting to be telling the story of that group of people. MEMOIRS did the same thing with geisha and THE HELP was about Black servants. These are no stories intended primarily for the people in question and they were not written by the people in question; they are all from an outside perspective, as viewed from the lens of an outsider. I actually liked MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and THE HELP, but I understand why they are problematic and why people can see those stories as stereotypical at best and incredibly offensive at worst. To deny that is somewhat ignorant. You can love something that is problematic but it's important not to forget why it's problematic, and that it does not necessarily reflect reality. AMERICAN DIRT would like to be like those aforementioned stories, but it doesn't even tell a particularly good one. I joked in a status update that the heroine's interaction with the drug lord could be the meet-cute in one of those mafia captive romances that are all the rage, but I was only half-joking. It really reminded me of Karina Halle's Dirty Angels trilogy, a guilty pleasure smutfest that is basically the modern-day equivalent of a 70s exploitation film and in no way represents a realistic portrayal of Mexico. I actually liked that story, too, which is yet another black mark against AMERICAN DIRT-- and I find it hilarious that both those books have cartel lords named Javier and 'dirt' in the title.

This is a boring story with mediocre writing. I found it intolerable. It's not really literary fiction because the writing is so hackneyed. It is, at best, book club bait: a book that aspires to literary pretentions but whose appeal is basically limited to making people who don't want to struggle through real literature feel smart by diving into something that's "daring" and "controversial." I don't begrudge the people who enjoyed this book, but I also don't think it is a good or even particularly well-written book, nor do I think that it's telling a particularly compelling or even novel story. I also don't think it would be anywhere near as popular as it is were it not for the controversy that brought this book under the public eye. As it is, the vast number of five star reviews befuddle me.

If you're interested in the controversy, there are a number of reviews written by people who can speak to that topic with much more authority than I. I am rating this book solely on its ability to tell a good story (nope) and the rather amusing idea that it is somehow literary (nope) or worthy of acclaim (also nope). Unfortunately, it's popular enough that they'll probably make a movie of it, but hey, maybe they'll offer Scarlett Johansson the chance to play the Mexican heroine.

(Sorry, I couldn't resist, ScarJo. I actually did love you in The Marriage and JoJo Rabbit.)

1 star
Profile Image for Cynthia.
181 reviews28 followers
January 17, 2020
Exploitative trauma-porn coming from a non-Mexican white woman. Full of harmful stereo-types and stylized violence. But of course why be critical of what you’re reading, right?

Do not recommend.
Profile Image for Karen.
573 reviews1,114 followers
January 26, 2020
Forced to flee from Acapulco after the massacre of their entire family, Lydia and her eight year old son Luca become migrants and begin their journey to the United States.
What a journey!
This is an extraordinary novel!
This is a page turner that explores all the elements.. grief, love, kindness, survival...
The movie rights have already been acquired...
I don’t care about any controversy about the book or writer..it’s a NOVEL. a great one!
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,399 reviews11.7k followers
Shelved as 'lost-interest'
February 5, 2020
As a person who constantly complains about writers borrowing and cashing in on Russian culture without having any expertise to do so (you, Leigh Bardugo, you, Julia Phillips), I find the takedown of this novel fascinating and infinitely satisfying (obviously, the stakes are not the same). Ever since The Help (and definitely way before that) well meaning white ladies have been lining their pockets by appropriating and "educating." Maybe it will finally stop now? You want to write about a different culture, go for it, but have the decency to write from the POV of an outsider. Because that's exactly who you are.


Profile Image for Mela.
263 reviews28 followers
March 19, 2021
edit instead of taking the time to comment telling me something im not going to read please donate to border angels: https://borderangels.us10.list-manage...

I'm sure we can all agree, you having read this book and understood the implications and the importance of the work being done at the border that this a worthy cause. if you can spend 28.99 on the book you can spare a donation, n'est-ce pas?

i didnt readthis book. save your breath, do not comment telling me to not rate what i havent read.

i did read this review by myriam gurba. do yourself a favor and read her work and this scathing and hilarious review instead. then go read something writte by someone with actual experience of the border. not someone benefiting from privilege and so tone deaf as to use the border wall as fucking centerpieces.

1 review
December 12, 2019
Author appears to be a white woman profiting off the suffering of Brown people, telling a story that isn't hers/her people's to share.
February 25, 2020
5+ outstanding stars!

I was invested in this story from page one! This novel starts with a gut wrenching, pulse pounding, horrific opening scene. One that I’ll never forget reading. We are introduced to our main characters, eight-year-old Luca and his mother Lydia. Luca and Lydia are forced to flee their hometown city of Acapulco, on the run from a powerful cartel. Their goal is to reach “el norte” where they hope to find freedom and safety.

The writing was exquisite and atmospheric - I was hanging on every word. The pace was perfect and kept me on the edge of my seat in anticipation of what would come next. The flow was smooth, moving through Luca and Lydia’s struggles while maintaining hope of reaching a better place. I enjoyed meeting the many characters that Luca and Lydia encountered along their travels, each one adding a deeper layer to their personal journey. The storyline itself is one that I found fascinating - a unique plot that I learned a lot from. This is a book I was thinking deeply about even when I wasn’t reading it. These characters and their journey will stay on my mind for a long time. A fantastic novel that I highly recommend!

Please note: I haven’t looked into the controversy surrounding this book. I’ve read some reviews but haven’t researched what all the controversial buzz is about. I wanted to read this with an unbiased mind so I could provide my true experience and opinions on this fictional novel which is what this review is. I am not here to argue over any controversial aspects.

This was a Traveling Friends read that had varying reactions in our discussion group.

Thank you to my lovely local library for the loan of this incredible novel!
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 2 books708 followers
March 23, 2023
Please, dear friends, ignore those silly sausages who disregard this book solely on the basis that a white woman wrote it. In fact, this is a passionate, compassionate, well-researched and important piece of literature, and to suggest that the author is unqualified to write it solely on account of her nationality or the colour of her skin seems incredibly unfair to an author who, in all probability, wanted to raise awareness of this awful problem.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,739 reviews2,267 followers
August 30, 2021

4.5 Stars

Beginning at the end, or perhaps more accurately – after the end of the story, for a change. In the Author’s Note at the end of the story, Cummins writes:

”As I traveled and researched, even the notion of the American dream began to feel proprietary. There’s a wonderful piece of graffiti on the border wall in Tijuana that became, for me, the engine of this whole endeavor. I photographed it and made it my computer wallpaper. Anytime I faltered or felt discouraged, I clicked back to my desktop and looked at it: ‘También de este lado hay sueños.’
“On this side, too, there are dreams.”

While there is much about this that seems painfully current, a story I would not be shocked to hear about through some Breaking News report which seem to occur much more often lately, it would be easy to forget the news is most often comprised of facts and figures and – especially lately – to be slanted to one side, politically, or the other. But this story is filled with a truth that needs, deserved to be shared, one that fuels the heart and soul of this book. It is a story about people enduring the worst, people who are so desperate for a life that doesn’t involve having to worry every day, every minute about the next minute, that they leave their home, friends and family for a dream. A dream that may, in reality, become their worst nightmare.

The opening chapter grabbed me and pulled me in, an event occurs as this begins that prompts a mother and her young son to leave their home in Acapulco to escape the men who killed the other members of their family. Desperately anxious to make their way to a place of safety they need to head to the United States, but there are few people that she feels that she can turn to for help. They’re on their own.

There’s an edge to this story that kept me reading, I cared about these people and wanted to see their dream come true, a dream for a life free of the sort of dangers that they’d fled. I wanted to see them reach a place of peace, and to see the possibility that their dreams might come true.

A very timely read that moved me, shook me to the core, this is filled with heartache, as well as humanity, the kindness of strangers. While there is a struggle for their survival, and heartache, it is the fierce determination of a mother determined to give her child the best life she can, along with some exceptional, inspired writing, that moves this story along at an almost unputdownable pace.

This is already in the works for a film, which will be brought to you by Imperative Entertainment, and yet, this book hasn’t even been published, yet. Do yourself a favour and read it first.

Published: 21 Jan 2020

Many thanks for the ARC provided by Flatiron Books through the Goodreads Giveaway program!
Profile Image for Tammy.
511 reviews429 followers
July 9, 2019
This is a timely and powerful portrayal of the plight of the migrant. An innocent mother and her young son desperately and illegally attempt to enter the US from Mexico while fleeing from a cartel. The beginning is brutal and the tension never ceases. The cartel’s savagery is not the focus of the novel but it is the impetus. At its heart, this is a novel about victims and there are victims aplenty. No one is to be trusted. Although, amid much cold-blooded barbarity and those out to make quick buck at the expense of the downtrodden, there are good souls who provide food, water, and shelter to the migrants. Be prepared to read this with your heart in your throat. I know of a certain occupant of the White House who would benefit greatly from reading this book but, alas, he does not read. Let’s hope American Dirt opens the eyes of others.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
486 reviews1,356 followers
March 1, 2020
American dirt is no American Pie. It is a compelling story that evoked emotions of fear and terror but also an appreciation of what a migrant must brave to triumph over crippling circumstances that lead them to take the journeys they do, to find a better place to live: For themselves and their families.

This is story of Lydia and son, Luca, who have survived a tragic slaughter of their family and only happened to survive by chance.
A journey to escape the cartel and Mexico in hoping of reaching el Norte - the United States. This is also about the people they meet along the way with their own hardships and reasons for leaving their homes and families behind.

This story gave me anxiety. I know there has been controversy over this one, which I’ve honestly steered clear of. In the author’s notes, Cummins states this is a work of fiction. However, the reality is, migrants often go through horrific conditions before they get to a safe haven. We can no longer think of them as a grey mass coming over a border; but rather that every migrant is a person with their own stories to be heard.

This was a remarkable and memorable 5⭐️ read for me. Don’t let the controversy prevent you from picking this one up. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Kudos Cummins -You may not be the right ethnicity or colour to have written this, but this is true of so many writers. Good on you! ***And the movie rights have just been picked up***
Profile Image for jessica.
2,533 reviews32.3k followers
November 18, 2021
i grew up and lived in tucson (a city many migrants come to) for most of my life, so this book hits very close to home for me.

i love what this story stands for - survival, perseverance, love, compassion, and endurance. its so easy to care for lydia and luca and just ache for all of the injustices they suffered just to find a way to safety. and their story written in a way thats eye-opening, but also comforting. the narrative does a great job at balancing the terrible with hope.

if i could change anything, it would be the presence of the cartel leader. other than the very beginning massacre, he never actually plays the villain role. yes, lydia and luca are running from his cartel, but they dont make another appearance until the very end. and its taken care of right away. that doesnt mean lydia and luca dont run into challenges along the way, but its all related to the difficult journey of a migrant and not really specific to the rage of a cartel leader (who lydia personally knows). i honestly just dont see what purpose he serves other than instigating their flee from mexico.

and i think because of that (the fact that the main problem is never really a problem), its obvious from the beginning lydia and luca will escape mexico. at least, it was obvious to me. and maybe thats the point - to have some sort of light at the tunnel so the reader wont be discouraged with all of the trying things that happen during their journey.

but none of this made me dislike the book by any means. i think its a story that is worth telling and one that needs to be shared.

4 stars
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