American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

4 stars

Lydia owns a bookstore and her husband works as a journalist, and the couple lives with their 8-year-old son, Luca, in Acapulco, Mexico. Their home is invaded by members of a cartel during an extended family celebration, and only Lydia and Luca survive the violent massacre. A shell-shocked Lydia flees with Luca and sets off on a quest to cross the border to safety.

I listened to this as an audiobook and it held my attention in a way that most fiction audiobooks do not. From the horrific opening scenes to the obstacles Lydia and Luca constantly face through their journey, I was captivated by both the story and the narration.

American Dirt By Jeanine Cummins in a bookshelf

There were some unbelievable points and the ending wasn’t my favorite. However, I was drawn in by Lydia’s character and her dedication to protecting her son at all costs. 

I became aware of the controversy surrounding this book after I finished listening to it. Readers and reviewers have criticized the author for cultural appropriation and perpetuating negative stereotypes of Mexicans. As a white woman from the U.S. with limited personal experience with Mexican culture, I respect the opinions of those with lived experience in Mexico on the appropriateness of the material. 

Personally, I did not view this story as an authoritative source of information about Mexico or Mexican culture, or what life in the U.S. is like, especially for immigrants on the run. I viewed the book as I do other works of fiction and reacted to the quality of the storytelling, the thrilling pacing, and whether I could connect with the main characters. 

Ultimately, I thought the central theme of a mother on the run doing everything in her power to protect her son’s life made it a compelling read.

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