The BookBrowse Review

Published January 22, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

American Dirt
by Jeanine Cummins
21 Jan 2020
400 pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN-13: 9781250209764
Genre: Novels
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BookBrowse members resident in the USA can request free review copies of books through our First Impressions program. Below are their opinions on one such book...

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Laureen S. (Aurora, IL)

One of those books that stays with you
Even weeks after reading this book, I find myself thinking about it. It is such a raw and honest portrayal of immigration and the lengths people will go to for their survival and the survival of the ones they love. Cummins' writing is beautiful with wonderful character development. It should be required reading in high schools/colleges and I encourage everyone to read this powerful book.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Shirley F. (The Villages, FL)

Migrant reality
I read the first chapter of this book and had to put it down - I didn't care to read about the rise of the drug cartels in Mexico, the violence that they produce, and the poor downtrodden Mexicans who are making their way to the US. Then I read the blurbs on the back of the book and thought that there must be more to this book than I am anticipating.

This book pulled together a story of maternal love, self preservation, and hope in a compelling narrative with multifaceted characters who found the courage and companionship to survive and unimaginable journey. The author defines these migrants as having the dreams of living in a faraway country that doesn't want them - the same as most migrants throughout time. I'm sure we all have looked at the problems at our southern border with some resistance to allowing them to enter our country.

My grandparents who came from Europe at the turn of the last century, were not wealthy, they were unskilled, they didn't speak English, but they too came to pursue a dream of a better Lydia and Luca.

The author puts a face to the sea of humanity crossing into the US, but she also puts heart and soul into the characters...and each of them carries some story of suffering. Yes, they have problems, yes, they have anguish, and yes there is some violence, but the story also has many heartwarming, and enlightening moments and is written so that you are carried along the journey with the characters.
I highly recommend this book for a discussion group. I guarantee that you will never look at the migrant problem the same again.

Thank you BookBrowse and Flatiron Books for an ARC of American Dirt. It has changed me forever.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Beverly J. (Hoover, AL)

Haunting, mesmerizing, unforgettable!
I am so very touched by American Dirt, a richly told timely and relevant contemporary story.

Cummings clear-eyed storytelling, compelling narrative and characterizations along with being expertly plotted had my heart racing in the many tense situations. While there are many situations where human darkness could reign, this is balanced by the goodness of within many others.

Like many tough issues that can happen in life I appreciated that this story was told with grace and hope.

A stunning story that presents its point without force but will leave each reader to examine their own humanity.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Elizabeth S. (East Hartford, CT)

Stunning Realism
It's been easy for me to see the refugees at the southern border of the United States as one sea of humanity. Cummins skillfully takes the reader into the heart and life of one Mexican woman fleeing gang violence in Acapulco, trying to get her son to distant family in Denver. As we travel with her on buses, on top of trains, and on foot through the treacherous route north, we experience first hand the desperation that leads people to become refugees. I will continue to see the face of Lydia, the mother, superimposed on any news photos of refugees I see in the future. Each person has a story, and Cummins gives us one stunning example in her novel.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Marianne D. (Crofton, MD)

Do Not Pass This One By!
"American Dirt" grabbed me from the very first sentence. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to rush through the book or savor every word. Author Jeanine Cummins' goal is to encourage us—maybe even force us—to see migrants as human beings, not statistics or problems. Even though I sympathize with immigrants, I cannot personally identify because I am not one. My grandparents were, but I am not. After "American Dream," I will never be able to look at immigrants as statistics. They are, as Ms. Cummins describes all human beings as being, "magical." The author does a masterful job of painting the everyday experiences and the inner thoughts of immigrants, as well as of those who try to help them and those who do not want them to succeed. "American Dirt" is perfect for a book group discussion. Please be sure to read the Author's Note; it will change you forever.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Lynn D. (Kingston, NY)

The story for our time
This is an amazing novel! We all have heard stories, or known people who have made the dangerous journey to cross our southern border. This novel makes us feel for these migrants with such compassion. Cummins humanizes the people who make this terrifying choice in order to save their lives, facing overwhelming danger. This book is compelling, frightening, heartwarming, and unforgettable. The migrants can trust no one and yet they find hope, and the courage to keep living, and to love. Lydia and Luca are beautiful characters.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Susan M. (Chestertown, MD)

After reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins you will find yourself wondering just how far would you go to save your loved ones? Would you evacuate them from all they love? Would you jump trains with them? Cross the desert with questionable strangers for them? Bullets flew one day and Lydia's life dramatically changed. Immediately all she knew was one thing, el norte, she must go el norte to the United States or she and her son Luca would die. Easily one of the best books I've read in years.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Michele H. (Ann Arbor, MI)

Such an adventure!
I really loved this book. This book has the key elements of what makes a great book - a plot driven story with characters you care about. Jeanine Cummins did a great job writing a story that created a setting that you could visualize with enough character development that you cared what happened. The subject matter is very relevant, and though heavy, it is done with grace.

"Because though she may understand something of this boy's circumstances, she doesn't know him."

I didn't want the book to end. I felt invested in what happens next to these characters. Another sign of what a fantastic read this was!
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Ginny H. (Troutdale, OR)

American Dirt
This is a beautifully written story of the plight of immigrants from dangerous countries who seek sanctuary in America. I have a much deeper understanding of what they have to go through to pass into the USA (stepping onto American dirt) and the unbelievable risks they take in order to do so. I loved the characters in the book and have so much compassion for the real-life people who a president who has denigrated and victimized.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Susan L. (Midlothian, VA)

america home of the brave
This book couldn't have been written at a more perfect time. The misunderstanding of people crossing the border into the U.S. is so unfair to the struggling people leaving their homes in fear of their lives. The story is following a mother and child coming north because they have to leave their home to survive. This book is worth the read. Highly recommend.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Jamie K. (Berkeley, CA)

A heart-rending story for our time
From the very first bullet-ridden sentence, I was hooked on this fast-paced mother and son journey from Acapulco to the promised land of El Norte. American Dirt is an immigrant story blending unconditional love with the sheer will to survive — told in compelling prose with characters so real, you sometimes want to reach in and shake them. Alternating terror and compassion, the author takes us on an unforgettable ride proving what we knew all along — friendship with the head of the cartel is never a good idea. On the road, everyone has their own story; nothing is as it seems, and even Lydia, as virtuous and brave as she is, has blood on her hands.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Darlene G. (Allegany, NY)

Rich, heartbreaking and rewarding
A page-turner! Cummins has created a story full of tension and love, full of the natural human desires for safety, food, shelter, and community as well as the ways power, greed, fear, violence and judgments of the "other" can pervert humane behavior. She accomplishes this through robust characters and heartbreaking challenges. Never pedantic nor does she suggest "the" answers, this is a story of what it might be like to confront the best and worst of humanity on the ground. If you have ever wondered what it might be like to be a migrant worker or an immigrant at the Mexican-U.S. border in today's world- it's a must read. Lastly, Cummins does not talk about this, but it made me wonder- how things could collapse anywhere when money and guns buy silence. I highly recommend this book.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Susan S. (Lafayette, CA)

I am in awe
I would say that a rating of 5 stars is an understatement. I think it would be impossible to praise this book too highly. I can't remember the last time I loved a book this much or learned this much. It's enlightening; it's inspiring; it's moving; it's thoroughly engrossing. And if anything could have the power to change the debate about immigration in this country, it would be this book. It should be required reading for every U.S. citizen.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Cheryl S. (Redmond, WA)

The book I Wish Everyone Would Read
Thank you to BookBrowse for an ARC of Jeanine Cummins outstanding new novel, American Dirt. I have been trying to remember another book that so instantly captured me from the first page, and I can't. This will be without a doubt the best book I've read all year, and it has been a year of excellent novels for me. I will leave it to readers much more skilled than I am to give a synopsis of this beautifully written novel. I could not stop reading, I felt so emotionally involved with the characters. My heart ached for them, I felt their terror and unbearable grief. I urge everyone to read this stunning and realistic book.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Dorothy L. (Manalapan, NJ)

A Book You Will Never Forget
There are a few times in your life when you read a book that transforms you. For me, this is one of those books. I found this book riveting from the very first sentence. I felt like I was on the journey with Lydia and Luca. I experienced many emotions along the way--horror, fear, and shock. This is the story behind the headlines and TV segments that we are exposed to very superficially. We don't know the stories behind the faces we see in cages and we don't know their journeys. I never knew what it was like to leave your home and embark on a frightening desperate attempt to survive and all the pitfalls that beset these migrants. This one of the central questions of our time and a book that everyone should read whatever your political leanings. It is the best book I read in 2019 and I am grateful to Bookbrowse for selecting me as an early-reader recipient of this truly amazing book. I might add that I am a very critical reader but there is nothing I can say except to praise American Dirt.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Margot P. (Mandeville, LA)

Every character matters
This book is going to be huge when it's released in January. There will be some who will say it's too political but how can it not be? The migrant tragedy is real, political, and complex and needs to be evaluated with compassion and realism. The story of a mother and son crossing Mexico to get to the US after their entire family is assassinated by a drug cartel in Acapulco will touch readers to the core. It's a brutal tale that Cummins brilliantly handles with great poetic writing and deep multifaceted characters. I particularly enjoyed the character of the drug lord as it added yet another fascinating layer of richness to the story.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Joan B. (Ellicott City, MD)

Message for ALL
There can be no one who has not questioned and been saddened and confused by the news reports of people leaving their homes and families to take an arduous trip to an unknown conclusion. Jeanine Cummins has pulled us in to the engrossing tale of Lydia and Luca leaving Mexico for "the north". The description of their trials and successes is a page turning adventure. Every sentence, paragraph and page keeps the reader pushing on in their shoes. What a beautifully written story to give us an understanding of the immigrant's motivation and persistence. I wish that everyone who is conflicted by the struggles would read this book.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Deborah H.

This is that book. The one that I simply could not put down. Truly captivating from the start. Cummins has written a stunning novel that implores each of us to open our eyes and our hearts to the humanitarian crisis that exists at our borders. This is that book. The one you will read and instantly want to share. The one that will spark the discussions we so need to have. I would so love to see this read in high schools across the country. This IS that book.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Jill S. (Chicago, IL)

It will change how you think about the world
How do I even begin to do justice to a book that is so brilliantly-written, harrowing, poignant, thought-provoking, strongly-plotted and heart-stopping?

Perhaps with this: American Dirt is one of those rare books that will not only galvanize readers with its story and with its characters, but also change the way we think about our human condition. At this sad juncture in American history where desperate people who are fleeing for their lives are portrayed as a homogeneous brown mass clamoring for benefits they haven't earned, Jeanine Cummins breathes life and humanity into her characters.

This author—herself the wife of an undocumented immigrant—vividly narrates a dangerous path forward where any stranger may, in fact, be an assassin and where every decision might be an instrument of death. Lydia and Luca's harrowing journey across a lethal freight train nicknamed "La Bestia" and a dangerous border crossing that had my heart in my throat is reason enough to read this book.

But the plot itself is not the thrust of Jeanine Cummins' story. She goes in search of deeper territory: how do we survive the unfathomable? How do we retain any spark of humanity when the world keeps revealing itself as predatory and evil? This book, to me, is a 6-star read!
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Lani S. (Narberth, PA)

A jewel embedded in stone
Blurbs have covered the stratosphere heralding the publication of this novel. I am here to tell you that these comments are not hyperbole; all of them are well deserved. Simplistically, it is the story of one woman's heart wrenching flight from Mexico with her young son to El Norte to escape the cartel and its spiteful drug lord. The horror of the first chapter alone is enough to put one over the edge. However, it is the prose and the dramatic tension throughout that propel the dynamism of the novel. Cummins shines a lens on our own biases lumping all migrants together, and helps us understand the harrowing ordeal that they encounter to try and escape persecution. How sobering to think that she must have written this a few years before the issues that confront us today were not staring us in the face painfully day after day after day. It is also the story of a mother's deep love for her child that tugged at my heart's drawstrings with an aching hurt. This is a fabulous book for book groups but you might want a lot of wine to get you through the discussion.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Antoinette B. (Charlottesville, VA)

American Dirt captivated me from the moment i read the first page. Literally I could not put the book down. There were so many twists and turns that were totally unpredictable. This is a profound and compelling story of a mother's love for her son and the obstacles she overcomes to keep them both alive. I could feel the character's angst and rode with them their roller coaster of extreme emotions and stupendous struggles. I was overwhelmed by the precariousness of what had been a solid family life. At night I would wonder if I could survive their circumstance. This book put in perspective how the cartels are destroying so many peoples lives and why they would rather die on the run than live in their country.
I love this book and would recommend it to everyone. I think it would be an excellent choice for book clubs as it would prove great discussions, I give this book 5 starts,but would give more if there were more to give.
It is one of the best books I have read in a long time.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sherilyn R. (St George, UT)

An Extraordinary Book
On television almost every day I see stories about the immigrant problem. What I don't see are stories about the journeys these people have gone through to come north to escape the brutality and horror they experienced in their home countries. This book clearly details the day to day experience of being a migrant, the sense of being prey, the unimaginable fear, the occasional act of kindness, the powerlessness, the hopelessness and the rage.

Lydia and Luca, Soledad and Rebecca, the protagonists in American Dirt, became very real. How they came to love and trust and help each other in a world where such feelings and actions are rare became the core of this story. I was obsessed with their story. It was impossible to put this book down.

I strongly recommend this book. It has everything, great writing, unforgettable characters and a riveting story. It goes without saying that this is one of the most important and best books I have read in a long time.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Amber H. (Asheville, NC)

One of the best books I have ever read. From the very first page to the last, I was hooked.

The story of Lydia & Luca is so beautifully written. I felt I was actually with them on every step of their journey.

This book isn't for the faint of heart - there are very difficult, emotional and violent moments. But this is also the reality of the world today, which makes it an important read.

I appreciate the research and heart Jeanine Cummins put into this book. This is a story that will stay with me.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Karen B. (La Grange, KY)

Lives up to the hype
American Dirt is an intimate, authentic, compelling story of anguish and hope, of triumph over extraordinary trauma. A compelling and timely story of the often inconceivable hardships faced by asylum seekers, American Dirt is challenging without being preachy or moralistic. In the author's note, Cummins writes that she is "acutely aware that the people coming to our southern border are not one faceless brown mass but singular individuals, with stories and backgrounds and reasons for coming that are unique." She hoped "to present one of those unique personal stories -- a work of fiction -- as a way to honor the hundreds of thousands of stores we may never get to hear". That she did. This was an extraordinary book that lives up to the hype.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Beth M. (New York, NY)

An extraordinary immigrant story
I loved this book. It was compelling, frightening, tender and expansive. It really seated you in the experience of a Mexican mother and son on the run from a dangerous drug cartel lord. Their journey from Mexico to America is harrowing and unimaginable. Read this book and you will support every immigrant organization you can. This book is so special and written. You won't be able to put it down. When writers like Stephen King, John Grisham, Julia Alvarez and Tara Conklin highly recommend it, you must take notice. You will be better for the experience. Thank you BookBrowse.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Regiene P. (Crestview, FL)

Both sensitive and strong, a must-read!
También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.

This has become one of my favorite books of all time since The Storyteller of Jodi Picoult. Cummins wants to tell a story of the victims more than the perpetrators and she successfully delivered it well. American Dirt narrates the plight of migrants from Mexico and Central America, about running away from the life they didn't know they will have to leave behind. Beautifully written with a crisp understanding of the cartels and the migrants' journey to el norte, the novel moves emotions with tales of horror, suffering, love, friendship, loss, and hope. 378 pages of solid skillful storytelling that depicts humanity in its core. Both sensitive and strong, this novel is a must-read!
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Ilyse B. (Howell, NJ)

Highly Recommended
Every once in a while you go in to a book with no expectations whatsoever, and it blows you away. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is one of those books.
On the surface, it is a story about a mother and her child trying to escape a drug cartel in Mexico, but it is really so much more. It is a story about the families we are born into and the families we make. About a mother's love for her son and her willingness to do anything to keep him safe even though she is absolutely terrified. It's about the ability of the human spirit to endure no matter how horrific an experience they have lived through.

The book draws you in immediately-the first pages are heartbreaking yet you will race on to finish them. Every character is fully formed and the author clearly knows what she is writing about. Beautiful writing, believable characters and a story that is so timely in the world we currently live in. Highly recommended for any reader and it will certainly spark a lot of conversation if read in a book club. This book actually gave me a book hangover that is making it difficult for me to move on to another story. I can't recommend this book enough.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Nanette C. (Sarasota, FL)

A literary masterpiece everyone should read
Imagine yourself at a family party in Acapulco. The festivities are underway, and everyone is having a wonderful time. In a split second, gunfire breaks out, leaving 16 members of your family dead. You and your son are alive only because he had gone inside and you went in to check on him. You hear the gunmen -- cartel members you assume -- looking around for survivors. By pure luck and instinct, the two of you survive. But this is only the beginning of the story. And I mean literally. This is not a spoiler, but what happens within the first few pages of the book.
Now Lydia and Luca are on the run as the cartel searches for them to complete the task of wiping out the entire family. As the story progresses, we learn what transpired that led to these heinous murders. We learn of a surprising relationship Lydia, a bookstore owner, has with one of the cartel members. And, most importantly, we learn of Lydia and Luca's struggle to reach the border to freedom in the United States and the people they meet along the way.
Cummins' writing is beautiful and compelling. There are moments of abject terror, but there are also moments of joy. The way Lydia holds it together for her son reminded me a bit of the father in the movie "Life is Beautiful."
"American Dirt" is a novel you will never forget. It is an example of the way fiction can shine a light on an international crisis--immigration, in this case--by giving it a face. A must-read book.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Carolyn L. (Vero Beach, FL)

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Jeanine Cummins was not an author previously read by this reviewer; however, once having finished this enlightening novel, it's a sure bet that more of her work will be enjoyed
American Dirt starts off like the explosives that the main characters, mother and son, Luca and Lydia endure in page one A party is being held at Lydia's parents' house when a drug cartel descends upon the party with firing AK-47's. Luca, Lydia's seven year old son is in the bathroom washing his hands when a bullet just misses him. The next thing he knows his mother Lydia, burst through the door and knocks him down landing on top of him in a five foot walled shower.
The two are not discovered but their entire family are dead, sixteen in all, including husband-father Sebastian. This is the start of a journey whereby both mother and son who are used to middle class culture become part of the migrant culture and population as they make their way from Acapulco, Mexico heading to Estados Unidos.

Cummins description techniques are amazing. The reader becomes part of the journey experiencing the horrors, of traveling while being chased by the Cartel plus the humiliation of seeking food and information from strangers. The author reminds the reader that the protagonists are Mexican by often writing her character's words in Spanish, but then translated to English. Cummins has chosen third person omniscience as the point of view and switches back and forth through most of the novel from mother to son. We also learn the thoughts of the two sisters Soledad and Rebeca who show them how to board a moving train, and 10 year old Beto who saves the day by providing much needed money to Lydia who has been robbed. These characters are introduced to the reader just as she is becoming somewhat bored with the monotony of the odyssey.

The book has several themes — Mother's Love — Family — The cost not only monetarily but emotionally of living in Mexico where the Cartels with all their viciousness are becoming more and more the government of Mexico.
This writer's eyes were opened when she realized the hardships and what is to be disappointing outcome for the migrants. A new found respect is realized by the reader. I highly recommend American Dirt.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Randi H. (Bronx, NY)

American Dirt is the best book I've read this year. It tells the story of a mother and son as they flee drug cartel violence in their hometown of Acapulco. They head north, facing many dangers, and have to draw upon reserves of inner strength they did not know they had. Author Jeanine Cummins has done a wonderful job conveying the experiences of these refugees. The story is beautifully written and I have been unable to stop thinking about the characters since finishing the book a number of days ago. I think American Dirt would make a fantastic pick for book groups.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Florence H. (Laguna Woods, CA)

American Dirt
This is a riveting,compassionate, eye-opening account of immigrants on their journey to the U.S. These fictional people, coming from various countries in Central America,become very real and put faces on the many statistics we have read about immigrants. Each is coming north for different reasons, but as the horrors of their pilgrimage are faced, it becomes obvious that not one of them chooses this route to "el Norte" without being desperate. In many instances the evil they encounter is tempered with goodness by people encountered who have the courage to help.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Victoria C. (Riva, MD)

A different look at the migrant story.
Thank you to Flatiron Books and Bookbrowse for giving me the chance to read this upcoming novel. And thanks to Linda as well! After reading an excerpt, I worked so hard to obtain an ARC of this title, I eventually ended up with two!

This is a fantastic slant on the immigration story and of course, very timely. The author's choice to center the story around a middle class mother and son, with a reporter husband, is what made it so compelling to me. I felt that I could really relate to them more than some of the other immigration tales I've read recently. Their frightening and adventurous journey will keep you turning pages late into the night, rooting them on at each step.

But it was the end of the story, including the author's afterword that brought tears to my eyes. A reminder of our shared humanity and that people and their individual stories cannot be summed up in soundbites. I highly recommend this to all.
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Pau J. (Bath, ME)

Stunning depiction of migrants voyage
I was simply stunned with this book; it is fantastic. It is a deep story of a mother and her child and what necessitated them to leave home. I felt like I was with them on their trip, feeling terrified, tired, and afraid. I was getting to the end of the book, and almost afraid to finish it ... I really did not want any of these people to go through any more pain. The story is told with a great deal of detail that allows you to immerse yourself in the story. The author's note was very helpful in expanding on how and why she wrote this novel. Honestly, I would give this 10 stars. I think it is one of the best books I have read this year.


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