MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Summary and book reviews of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt

A Novel

by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins X
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
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  • Published:
    Jan 21, 2020, 400 pages

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Book Summary

Already being hailed as "a Grapes of Wrath for our times" and "a new American classic", American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope.

American Dirt is the first book to ever score a perfect 5-stars in BookBrowse's early reader program, First Impressions--and we've reviewed more than 600 books to date!

También de este lado hay sueños.

On this side too, there are dreams.

If it's only a better life you seek, seek it elsewhere...This path is only for people who have no choice, no other option, only violence and misery behind you. And your journey will grow even more treacherous from here. Everything is working against you. ―American Dirt

Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they'll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with four books he would like to buy―two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia's husband's tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia―trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier's reach doesn't extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.

CHAPTER ONE

One of the very first bullets comes in through the open window above the toilet where Luca is standing. He doesn't immediately understand that it's a bullet at all, and it's only luck that it doesn't strike him between the eyes. Luca hardly registers the mild noise it makes as it flies past and lodges into the tiled wall behind him. But the wash of bullets that follows is loud, booming, and thudding, clack-clacking with helicopter speed. There is a raft of screams, too, but that noise is short-lived, soon exterminated by the gunfire. Before Luca can zip his pants, lower the lid, climb up to look out, before he has time to verify the source of that terrible clamor, the bathroom door swings open and Mami is there.

"Mijo, ven," she says, so quietly that Luca doesn't hear her.

Her hands are not gentle; she propels him toward the shower. He trips on the raised tile step and falls forward onto his hands. Mami lands on top of him and his teeth pierce his lip in the tumble. He ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Throughout the novel, Lydia thinks back on how, when she was living a middle-class existence, she viewed migrants with pity: "All her life she's pitied those poor people. She's donated money. She's wondered with the sort of detached fascination of the comfortable elite how dire the conditions of their lives must be wherever they come from, that this is the better option. That these people would leave their homes, their cultures, their families, even their languages, and venture into tremendous peril, risking their very lives, all for the chance to get to the dream of some faraway country that doesn't even want them" (chapter 10, page 94). Do you think the author chose to make Lydia a middle-class woman as her protagonist for a reason? Do ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

From the very first page to the last, I was hooked. The story of Lydia and Luca is so beautifully written. I felt I was actually with them on every step of their journey (Amber H). 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 might add that I am a very critical reader but there is nothing I can say except to praise American Dirt (Dorothy L)...continued

Full Review Members Only (798 words).

(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

BookBrowse - Davina Morgan-Witts
I don't know what the world will look like in 80 years' time, and I won't be around to see it, but I reckon that when it comes time for that future generation to look back on the 21st century and define the most important books of the era, American Dirt will be on the list. This book is a stunner!

The Observer (Sunday edition of The Guardian)
What Cummins does so skilfully in the novel is to subvert popular preconceptions about migrants. Lydia is educated, middle-class, escaping to America not in search of better economic opportunities but simply to survive. “She and Luca are actual migrants… All her life she’s pitied those poor people. She’s donated money. She’s wondered with the sort of detached fascination of the comfortable elite, how dire the conditions of their lives must be wherever they came from, that this is the better option.”

Cummins answers this question so compellingly that it is hard to imagine there will be a more urgent or politically relevant novel this year.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Intensely suspenseful and deeply humane, this novel makes migrants seeking to cross the southern U.S. border indelibly individual.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This extraordinary novel about unbreakable determination will move the reader to the core.

Author Blurb John Grisham
I strive to write page-turners because I love to read them, and it's been a long time since I turned pages as fast as I did with American Dirt. Its plot is tight, smart, and unpredictable. Its message is important and timely, but not political. Its characters are violent, compassionate, sadistic, fragile, and heroic. It is rich in authenticity. Its journey is a testament to the power of fear and hope and belief that there are more good people than bad.

Author Blurb Kristin Hannah, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone
Relevant, powerful, extraordinary. It is a remarkable combination of joy and terror, infused always with the restorative power of a mother's love and the endless human capacity for hope. I hope everyone reads it and is as moved by it as I was.

Author Blurb Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies
Riveting, timely, a dazzling accomplishment. Jeanine Cummins makes us all LIVE and BREATHE the refugee story. If a book can change hearts and transform policies, this is the one!

Author Blurb Don Winslow, author of the New York Times bestseller The Border
From its heart-stopping first sentence to its heart-shattering last, Cummins's story of immigrants is just what we need now. Gritty yet sensitive, realistic yet hopeful, grand and granular, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a Grapes of Wrath for our times.

Author Blurb Tara Conklin, author of the New York Times bestseller The Last Romantics
American Dirt is an urgent, blistering, unforgettable book. In her portrayal of Lydia and Luca, a mother and son forced to leave their Mexican home, Jeanine Cummins has given face to migrants everywhere who flee violence and near-certain death in search of only one thing: a chance at life. Beautifully written, thrilling in its propulsive force, American Dirt is a new American classic.

Author Blurb Rumaan Alam, author of That Kind of Mother and Rich and Pretty
The story of the migrant is the story of our times, and Jeanine Cummins is a worthy chronicler. At once intimate and epic, American Dirt is an exhilarating and beautiful book about parental love and human hope.

Author Blurb Tracy Chevalier, bestselling author of Girl With a Pearl Earring
This tough, powerful novel is an eye opener. It made me understand better why someone would give up the home they know and love to survive, and the grit required to cross that border. It is essential reading for our time.

Author Blurb Sarah Blake, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Postmistress and The Guest Book
Urgent and unforgettable, American Dirt leaps the borders of the page and demands attention, especially now.

Author Blurb Stephen King
American Dirt is an extraordinary piece of work, a perfect balancing act with terror on one side and love on the other. I defy anyone to read the first seven pages of this book and not finish it. The prose is immaculate, and the story never lets up. This book will be an important voice in the discussion about immigration and los migrantes; it certainly puts the lie to the idea that we are being besieged by 'bad hombres.' On a micro scale--the story scale, where I like to live--it's one hell of a novel about a good woman on the run with her beautiful boy. It's marvelous.

Reader Reviews

CarolK

Realistic Portrayal of a Border Crossing
American Dirt will be published January 21, 2020. It has already made my 2020 Best List as I was fortunate to be an early reader thanks to Amy Einhorn, and Flatiron Books. Have you ever experienced a horrible trip or had a bad experience visiting...   Read More

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...   Read More

Becky H

You need to read this book
This is an important book. Anyone who thinks all illegal aliens are criminals should read this book. It is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It will grab you at the first page and not let go until the last. Sabastian is a journalist ...   Read More

Toni Brabender

Recommend to every reader
This is a story for our time- a chronicle of the migrant's plight. So often the average person sees immigration through eyes of politicians. Often failing to perceive the migrants as individuals with individual hopes, dreams and a story to tell. We ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A History of Acapulco and Ongoing Cartel Control

Acapulco Bay Acapulco de Juárez, commonly known as Acapulco, is a city located on the coast of Mexico in the southwestern state of Guerrero. The name "Acapulco" is believed to come from a word in the Náhuatl (Aztec) language meaning "place of the reeds." Once considered a desirable vacation spot and bustling resort town, Acapulco has in recent years been overrun by gang violence, becoming a threatening place for locals and losing much of its draw for travelers.

The modern-day Guerrero region was inhabited by the Mezcala people starting in the 7th century, and shows evidence of earlier ties to the ancient Olmec civilization. The Aztecs gained control of the area in the 11th century, but failed to conquer Acapulco, which remained under ...

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