Quantcast

Field Study by Chet’la Sebree

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 176 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Field Study by Chet’la Sebree reminds me of those scientific notebooks kept by scientists in the field who are observing animals or others as they take notes. Peppered with quotations from bell hooks and many others, Sebree explores Black female identity and sexual desire. The poem is less like a poem than a list of observations and comments on Black identity and female desire.

Black women and girls face additional burdens of protecting the reputations of black boys and men. -- Tressie McMillan Cottom
My secret ... I'm always angry. -- Bruce Banner
 ___________

And why wouldn't I be?

In addition the female desire and the struggle of Black women who love and are attracted to white men, Sebree voices some of the issues she’s found in the Black community — how the community does not address mental health enough.

In my early twenties, I worked on an epistolary series.
I didn't know I wrote a book-length suicide note.
I titled it And If I Die Before I Wake.
A prayer and a promise.
__________

I'm alive; I'm alive; I'm alive.
Cry it with me.
It doesn't always feel like it, but it's a good thing.

Sebree has created a poetry collection in which mental health is entwined with Black female identity, the racial tensions that women feel from all sides, and the responsibility they have to project a sense that they are indeed whole. “No matter how far I go, there is never enough makeup for the bullet hole.” Field Study by Chet’la Sebree, which publishes in June, worries and rationalizes and assesses herself like a scientist. Her observations are keen and deeply probing, and she doesn’t let up on herself. This is a frank look at one woman’s struggle with desire and identity, but it has universal applications to others in all communities — less judgment and more love. Definitely not your typical, confessional poetry collection — it’s much more.

RATING: Quatrain

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 256 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans is a collection of poems that explore mother-daughter relationships, identity, and the racism many Blacks face every day. There are so many moments in this collection where your heart will break, just as the relationship between mother-daughter breaks. The narrator of these poems struggles with who she is and how to reconcile that with her mother’s disappointments about that identity.

In “We Host These Variables,” she says, “There’s something I want to honor here. I/ want to honor the silent story, the emotions/unaccompanied by human language. I want to/honor the weight of stillness. I want to/honor the silent ceremony between mother/ and daughter.” In this poem she explores the silence that become tense between mother and daughter because they are mirrors of one another. Later, she says, “I know the/distance between mother and daughter. How/we are many burned bridges, as well as a/wealth of brick and clay, ready to be made/anew from everything unmade of us.”

Mans explores the harsh history facing Blacks — women who get the worst part of it all. Men with the dreams, but the women who bear the burden of those dreams. One of the most powerful poems in this collection that brings this history to the forefront is “Nerf Guns: Christmas 2019 Tulsa” where the past and the burdens of racism are never far away. “The/only way a bullet becomes laughter is when it/plays pretend in its own foam shadow./” In this poem, little boys play with nerf guns and play dead and the narrator was never allowed to until she was grown and playing with her cousins. She realizes the ironies and implications of this game, while her cousins do not. “My father knew death too well to let us mimic it. Or, maybe death mimicked us too well for him to allow it’s ‘pretend’ in his house.” She wraps “herself in/that joy. The joy that nothing spilled of them/but the sound of their own silly.”

Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans is a journey of identity and learning how to cope with the past to bring oneself into the future. There are truths in this collection that shouldn’t be shied away from, especially for Black men and women. We need these stories to remind us that we can do better. “I know trauma uses silence as a survival mechanism.” Let’s break that cycle and break that silence.

Rating: Cinquain

The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
I am an Amazon affiliate

The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis takes another look at Aline Griffith, a small town girl looking for big adventure and to serve her country. Loftis uses source material from the National Archives, Griffith’s own fictionalized accounts of her time as a spy with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and many are source materials to suss out the truth of her time as a spy. Aline was a model who trained to be a spy at The Farm and her own accounts of her exploits are likely to have been embellished because as publishers will do, they want to sell books and car chases, murders, and more sell books. While Aline may have wanted to recount her life honestly, other marketing experts were at play and Loftis strives to piece out what was true from those accounts with secondary sources. I also think some people have a glamorous view of spies and what they do (e.g., James Bond), and the reality is much more mundane and nuanced — it’s about building trust and relationships that can be leveraged for information.

Was Loftis successful in finding the truth? For the most part, he did his best based on what was classified and what isn’t any longer. What I loved about Loftis’ narrative is that it read like historical fiction, and I think with any book based on research there’s a tendency to be too dry in the narrative. Because he chose to narrate it more like a novel, it was easier to eat up the pages and get engrossed in Aline’s story. Her time at The Farm was fascinating, and some may wonder why her family wasn’t in the book and asking about her whereabouts, etc., but I think it’s clear that when you become a spy and have a cover story, the family must accept it as truth and you make sure that they do. Adding those conversations would have bogged down this narrative.

Being part of the OSS coding room in Spain (considered neutral in the war) to send information to the U.S. State Department during WWII is not a glamorous job but no less important than being a spy. She spent much of her career in that room, but she also attended parties, social events, and had a semi-romance with a bullfighter. When she finally became a field agent, it is clear that all those parties and social events she was invited to opened the door for her career because she was in places where she could probe without drawing attention and could overhear conversations that might be of importance with regard to Nazi movements.

Loftis also creates a wider link between espionage and the Spanish bullfights. Like the matador, Aline lures her targets closer to her with the hope that she can evade capture, jail, and death. She’s weaving her spell on the crowd around her and she’s masterfully moving her cape to lure the bulls and create an illusion of a career woman learning about her current home — Spain. It probably helped that she was genuinely captivated by the Spanish culture.

The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis is engaging, thrilling, and insightful, and he provides a great deal of information about the spy business (but I’m not an expert). I do think there are holes and gaps that could be filled, and I would love to know more about her time doing “odd jobs” for the CIA after her marriage and her life in Spain was in full swing, but alas that information is still classified (my guess is it had a lot to do with preventing communism’s spread). Aline Griffith served her country with honesty and dignity, and she enjoyed doing it, even if she was in danger. She clearly was a people person and the relationships she maintained throughout her life are a testament to her personality and care for others. Loftis has humanized a spy who believed her efforts helped the country during WWII, but I’m still curious about some of the characters in her life like Pierre and Ryan (two figures who are much more mysterious — perhaps there’s a fictionalized account of them in Loftis’ future).

RATING: Quatrain

Pink by Sylvie Baumgartel

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 62 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Pink by Sylvie Baumgartel is startlingly does not have a pink cover. In fact, it has a gray cover, which perfectly mirrors the gray in the relationships explored — mother-daughter, father-daughter, narrator-art, changes in climate, and more.

The collection opens with “The Washing” in which mothers and daughters wash together — a mother who washes secrets — and it is compared to the “washing” of the Sistine Chapel, in which fig leaves are removed to expose genitals and the windows to the soul are lost. It makes you think about what we wash away when the secrets are cleansed or kept hidden — how awful can the truth be?

We move later in the collection to “Pregnancy” (pg. 9) in which the narrator feels numb but everything is out of sorts as the “Blood that feeds my/Part parasite,/Part god, baby boy.//” is a far cry from how it is portrayed in art. The narrator says, “I wonder if what paintings/Really want is to reproduce./A baby of their own.// With many paintings made famous by men, perhaps the narrator is right because those painters are unable to do so naturally.

The collections call on the color of femininity, love, and kindness stands in juxtaposition to the nearly clinical precision with which Baumgartel examines relationships and art. She even explores the abuse suffered by boys at the hands of priests who believed “they could get away with it/Because the boys couldn’t hear each other/Scream.//” (from “The Mission Bell”, pg. 11-2).

Pink by Sylvie Baumgartel is a stunning poet with stark imagery in each poem that will force readers to reorient themselves and rethink the world around them. Between the grotesque and the use of color, she creates a world in which the narrator needs to break through the morass and the societal norms to be born again.

RATING: Quatrain

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White

Source: the poet

Preordered book, 138 pgs.

I am an Amazon Affiliate

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White, on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a poetic memoir in which the poet explores the absence of her father in her life, how it has impacted who she has become, and how she can reconnect with her absent father in adulthood.

“When it came to the conjunction “and” I was illiterate. For it makes you larger, more. Expands into distances beyond my eyes.” (pg. 124)

White articulates deftly the nuanced feelings of a desire to belong and the sense that belonging requires the reconnection with an absent father. While she has others in her life who love and care for her, there are traumas that she faces while her father is absent. But reconnecting with a man ejected from the United States and back to Guyana and who fails to even write a letter or call her is a tall order.

“Am I a site of abandonment?” (pg. 97)

“Guyana is abandonment from my father. I feel the weight of the people in me and I in them, guilt I carry myself alone.” (pg. 108)

The poetic memoir begins at home in the United States, as Arisa grows up in a broken home, a home of harsh realities. These realities are not my own, but this collection creates a palpable reminiscence of sorrow, anger, confusion, absence, and more. Despite these trials and her struggles with connections, she is a strong woman — caring for herself, willing to reach out to someone who abandoned her, and seeking self-care and healing.

What she finds in this journey is a man incapable of giving her a sense of belonging — a man who rambles just to hear himself speak, to make him relevant to those who hear him.

“Breaks my heart along the same fault lines that ache for him.” (pg. 83)

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White is a journey into the poet’s past as she reconciles the abandonment of her father and her struggles with connecting to others. The poetic memoir is beautiful and the landscapes within it (emotional and physical) are tumultuous and heartbreaking. White is a deft storyteller, and readers will be emotionally spent by this poetic memoir.

RATING: Cinquain

Follow the rest of the blog tour with #WhosYourDaddyMemoir #ArisaWhite

Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

About the Poet:

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She is the author of four books, including the poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, and coauthor of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, winner of the Maine Literary Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Middle-Grade Nonfiction. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press. Find her at arisawhite.com.

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young

Source: NetGalley

Ebook, 1170 pgs.

I am an Amazon Affiliate

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young is a compendium like no other, exploring the wide breadth of African American poetry from songs to poems and much more. There are eight sections in this collection and there are the familiar, often anthologized poems we’ve come to know, but there are also the unfamiliar poets who have been obscured by American culture for far too long. The struggle is real and it continues 250 years later, and it will likely continue into the next several decades (I’m being optimistic — I would like to see less struggle sooner).

“For African Americans, the very act of composing poetry proves a form of protest,” says Kevin Young in the introduction. From Phillis Wheatley and Lucy Terry, whose untitled poem “Bars Fight” was first composed orally and shared for generations before being in print, to the present day poets, Young says the collection covers those who experienced bondage first hand, modernist movement, the Harlem Renaissance, the Chicago Renaissance, wartime and postwar poets, Beat poets, political poets, poems about ancestry, and so much more. Young says the collection contains “poems we memorize, pass around, carry in our memory, and literally inscribe in stone.” Folk songs, ballads, and poems that have never been published. You can imagine the treasure trove within these pages.

Normally, I would share excerpts from this collection but I prefer that you discover these for yourself. I want you to journey into the African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young on your own without preconceived notions of what you’ll find there. There is so much more than Langston Hughes. This is a collection that should be brought to classrooms as young as elementary schools. These are the poems and truths that need to be taught so that we can learn from the past and move forward as a nation to a brighter future.

RATING: Quatrain

Rational Creatures edited by Christina Boyd

Source: Publisher
Ebook, 486 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Rational Creatures edited by Christina Boyd is a collection of stories that explore the rational side of Jane Austen’s characters, delving deep into what makes them tick. From Louisa Musgrove who leaps from the Cobb and is severely injured to Hetty Bates, the spinster who chatters away. Sixteen Austen-inspired stories are within the covers of this anthology, and each one will shed light on some of Austen’s most modern thinking characters. But don’t be fooled by the title because this collection also has the romance many Austen readers desire.

Imagine Elinor Dashwood sketching her beloved knowing he belongs to another, pouring her deep passion and melancholy into his visage with such care. “He has found it, she thought, not daring (not wanting) to break the intensity of his gaze. Could he see, in that drawing and in her face, all she wanted of him? What would he do if she were to reach out and touch him — to feel for herself the line of his jaw, the arch of his brow, the fullness of his bottom lip?” (from “Self-Composed” by Christina Morland)

Readers also get a glimpse into Charlotte Lucas and her thoughts on marriage and her longing for a life like her friend Elizabeth Bennet — a life filled with love. We find that Hetty Bates may be more like Elizabeth Bennet than we’d think, having spurned a marriage proposal. Perhaps Ms. Bates is Ms. Bennet’s alter ego, had Mr. Darcy not strove to improve himself and hope she’d accept him. Even Fanny Price, who many see as weak, is brought into a new light in “The Meaning of Wife” by Brooke West. “Edmund did not truly know her at all, choosing only to see the young woman he expected her to be. It struck her as darkly amusing that for years she had longed for Edmund to look upon her with desire but, now that his heart had found his way to her, she could find none of the expected joy.”

Rational Creatures edited by Christina Boyd offers so much in these short stories but at it’s heart is about women who are searching for their own love stories, even if they are ridiculed, hated, and ignored by others. Isn’t love the most redeeming for us all. Each of these characters is given new life by these authors and their stories are as beautifully engaging as the originals written by Jane Austen herself.

Rating: Quatrain

Tapping Out by Nandi Comer

Source: NetGalley
Ebook, 96 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Tapping Out by Nandi Comer relies heavily on imagery and language tied to lucha libre, or Mexican freestyle wrestling, as she explores the roles of identity, changes in our identities, and the masks that we often wear when faced with violence, trauma, and other situations. The poems are like the high-flying maneuvers of the wrestlers in lucha libre and many times Comer references the colorful masks of the wrestler-narrators in the poems to explore unsettling realities of migrant and immigrant experience. There are bumps and bruises along the way, and it’s hard to turn away from Comer’s poems. Reality is harsh and she displays it all.

From "Rudo"

I am always undoing the language of my body.
my arms, my hair say
Black. Dark. English only.

From “Tecnico :La Mascara,” “In a year you can go to a mall or grocery store, walk through the dust of a market and everyone will know the bottom lip and callused forehead I have kept so long inside. M’hijo, before I let go of your face, someone will have to rip me apart.” Here the wrestler is concerned about how they will be remembered and how long it will take them to return to regular society because to be unmasked in the ring is career ending. There is a deep exhaustion throughout these poems — whether exhaustion from the identities assumed and being outside of the true self or from the fighting for just a piece of happiness and fleeting joy. But the wrestlers, just like the immigrants and minorities, do not have the option of “tapping out” from their lives. They have no choice but to keep fighting — or face death head on.

Tapping Out by Nandi Comer is a collection of narrative poems that melds the Mexican wrestling world with the realities of immigrants and minorities. It’s match after match, fear around the corner at every turn, and constant exhaustion in fighting to live. To ignore these narratives, is to ignore the humanity of all of us. To ignore the injustices of the world, is to be an ostrich with its head in the sand.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

NANDI COMER received a joint MFA/MA in Poetry and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University. She has received fellowships from the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Cave Canem, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for the Arts. Her poems have appeared in Detroit Anthology (Rust Belt Chic Press, 2014), Blue Shift Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Green Mountains Review, Pluck!, Prairie Schooner, and Southern Indiana Review.

Finna by Nate Marshall

Source: NetGalley
eARC, 128 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Finna by Nate Marshall explores identity within the Black community, while looking not only at the dark past of America but also its hip hop present. “when America writes/about Black life/they prefer the past/ tense,” the narrator says in “When America Writes.” Many of the early poems explore identity, a young man who wants to learn and go to college, choosing something more than the gangs and drugs he sees in the community. But even then, there is that push and pull of becoming a learned person and the person the community nurtured.

In “another Nate Marshall origin story,” the narrator says, “perhaps our rage at the other is just the way we fill what we don’t know about ourselves.” A deep look at who we are is integral to our development no matter what stage of life we are in, but many times we skip this step and force ourselves into certain roles in our environments or in our families. For a young boy of five to already know lyrics about the deaths seen regularly in the Black community is a strong judgment on our society’s treatment of those who are not white. He delves further into the saddest commentary on our society in “I thought this poem was funny but then everybody got sad” — “what has a black body/& is read all over?/I mean is read all over/I mean/that’s the punch/line.”

publicist

a mentor told me
to consider writing
essays that commemorate
days that relate to my book.
it's a good way to insert
your work into the public
conversation. well motherfuckers
spend every day killing
a Black somebody in Chicago
& every next day the whole world
practices saying silences like
Black on Black
gang related
violent neighborhood
so I guess I owe a
million essays.
i guess my book
will be huge.

Finna by Nate Marshall expresses the struggles of Black America using familiar cultural vernacular and Hip Hop to bring readers into a world masked by white institutions and standards that are imposed upon these Americans. Nate Marshall’s narrator speaks about the other Nate Marshalls of the world and how he is not like them. But they are connected in how their life’s struggles can emotionally wear them down. What Marshall brings to life in this collection is that we are all human and empathy is something we need to relearn in order for us to connect.

RATING: Quatrain

Being Mrs Darcy by Lucy Marin

Source: Publisher
Kindle, 464 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Being Mrs. Darcy by Lucy Marin imagines Elizabeth Bennet coming to the rescue of Georgiana at Ramsgate, but with her impetuous decision to help a young lady she doesn’t know, she sends everything she has ever known at Longbourn spiraling outward away from her. From the moment she meets Mr. Darcy and Georgiana on the street, Elizabeth Bennet finds her world irrevocably changed. Georgiana and Mr. Darcy are wealthy and have a reputation to protect, but Mr. Darcy is not without his merits when he staves off Elizabeth’s ruin because of gossip. From the moment they are betrothed and embark on their married life, Elizabeth is lonely, anxious, and unlike we’ve seen her in Austen’s original work.

“Never again to call myself Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Never again to call Longbourn my home.

The last was not such a hardship, thanks to her father.” (pg. 1)

Readers will fall into Elizabeth’s anxiety. She struggles to learn all she needs to learn to be not only Mr. Darcy’s wife and be in his social circle, but also to navigate the work of a large estate. She’s intelligent and applies herself well in an effort to gain a modicum of acceptance among a family that does not desire her company or want her as Mrs. Darcy just because of her station and lack of fortune. Elizabeth’s strength of character shines through in all that she does in this novel. I loved her, but I also felt such pain alongside her. She was incredibly lonely and those she is supposed to trust with her happiness are at best neglectful of it. She has no true friends and is cut off from not only her family, but her faithful sister, Jane. It brings to life the question of how you can feel alone in a crowded room. Elizabeth feels this most acutely at every turn. It amazed me that she did not break down before she does in the novel.

Marin also provides an alternate look at why Georgiana would be so shy in public and with those outside her family. Perhaps not out of shame, but of something far worse. This side of Georgiana is explored in depth after Ramsgate and Elizabeth’s role in that event merely serves as a reminder of her stupidity. She may be fifteen, but she still has much to learn, and like most petulant children, she takes a long time to overcome her anger and jealousy before she begins to see the error of her ways.

Being Mrs. Darcy by Lucy Marin is a wonderful variation with a forced marriage and a testament to the will of a woman to make things right for the good of everyone, not just herself, despite the obstacles before her. Becoming Mrs. Darcy is so much more than her social transformation, it is her maturing into the woman Mr.Darcy needs to complement him and his maturing into the man who complements her in a life that neither of them initially wanted. Marin is a storyteller who can delve deep into emotional character development and ensure the reader is as wrecked as her characters become.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Lucy Marin developed a love for reading at a young age and whiled away many hours imagining how stories might continue or what would happen if there was a change in the circumstances faced by the protagonists. After reading her first Austen novel, a life-long ardent admiration was borne. Lucy was introduced to the world of Austen variations after stumbling across one at a used bookstore while on holiday in London. This led to the discovery of the online world of Jane Austen Fan Fiction and, soon after, she picked up her pen and began to
transfer the stories in her head to paper.

Lucy lives in Toronto, Canada surrounded by hundreds of books and a loving family. She teaches environmental studies, loves animals and trees and exploring the world around her. Being Mrs Darcy is Lucy’s first novel. Her second, titled Mr Darcy, A Man with a Plan will be released in summer 2020. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, and GoodReads.

Two More Days at Netherfield by Heather Moll

Source: Publisher
ebook, 406 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Two More Days at Netherfield by Heather Moll finds Elizabeth Bennet and her sister at Netherfield like they were in Jane Austen’s novel, Pride & Prejudice.

While at Netherfield nursing her sister back to health, Elizabeth comes to realize that her first impressions of Mr. Darcy may have been wrong. At the same time, through teasing, she makes him realize that he may have been hasty in his opinion of her. As they continue to be in each other’s company, will they come to realize that they are more alike and complementary to one another than they initially thought?

These two begin to share their love of poetry and intellectual conversation. They start to view one another as friends, even if they do continue to verbally spar. Mr. Wickham arrives on the scene and their friendship, which is blatantly obvious to the scoundrel, hatches a plan.

“She has no beauty! I have twenty thousand pounds!”

Moll’s Elizabeth is outspoken and braver than the Lizzy in Austen’s novel. She makes the first move in some situations where she should be reserved. This, however, is not to say that she diverges too far from Austen’s character. The machinations of Mr. Wickham and Miss Bingley, though not in concert, are even more devious. I love that Moll made Wickham and Bingley more evil than in Austen’s book. Both of these characters know what they want and what their motivations are and they are committed to the last. Watch out Elizabeth and Darcy.

Bingley and Jane find their happiness more quickly but little else has changed, though there is no chance meeting at Hunsford for Darcy and Elizabeth. All of these changes are well done and not missed when Moll’s book unfolds.

Unfortunately, after Darcy and Lizzy get together and past all of their misconceptions and worries, the pace quickens. The novel fast forwards to when they are already married. As these chapters propel the reader into the future of their lives, I felt as though I was missing some great moments of connection between them. Aside from that, Darcy and Lizzy have a balance in their relationship that they hadn’t had before. Two More Days at Netherfield by Heather Moll is a heartwarming novel that brings Darcy and Elizabeth together in a way that makes them partners in all things. Partnerships in love are the best kind.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Heather Moll is an avid reader of mysteries and biographies with a master’s in
information science. She found Jane Austen later than she should have and made up for lost time by devouring Austen’s letters and unpublished works, joining JASNA, and spending too much time researching the Regency era. She is the author of Two More Days at Netherfield and His Choice of a Wife. She lives with her husband and son and struggles to balance all of the important things, like whether to clean the house or write. Connect with her on Facebook,
Goodreads, Instagram, and Twitter.

GIVEAWAY:

Quills & Quartos Publishing is giving away one ecopy at each blog stop of the Two More Days at Netherfield blog tour. All you need to do to enter the giveaway is comment on this blog post, and Quills & Quartos will randomly choose one random winner after Feb. 21, 2020. So, make sure you join in the conversation!

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 400 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a roller coaster of emotions, but provides a fictionalized look at the journey migrants endure to escape the horrors of their homes and the people that seek to murder, rape, conscript, or abuse them. Many migration stories speak to the economic conditions of the homeland or the volatile political world, but few take us into the emotional world of the migrants’ journey to the United States.

Lydia and Luca emerge from the most tragic day of their lives running for safety. Safety is not their home or another relative’s home in Mexico, but across the border into the United States where the cartel Los Jardineros cannot reach. These are the faces of migrants. Not drug dealers, not rapists, and not criminals, but honest people forced to flee their home because suddenly the cartel is at their door thirsting for blood.

Lydia and Sebastian would have been considered to be well off compared to others in Acapulco. She owned a bookstore, and her husband was a journalist. Although many of his articles were published anonymously, anonymity only works so far when your writing about the cartel Los Jardineros. Their son, Luca, is a typical 8-year-old who loves to play, but he’s also very smart about geography. But their relatively quiet life is obliterated in one moment.

In heart-stopping detail, Cummins endears Lydia and Luca to her audience. They are real people, fleeing real dangers. They just want to live beyond today. As citizens of the United States, it is hard for us to imagine leaving all we know behind and living elsewhere because we have no choice. This is precisely why these fictional migrants are so important. They provide us a window into the many individual stories and experiences of migrants who cross the U.S. border, and what we see will not only shock us awake, but force us to revisit our prejudices and malformed notions about immigrants and why they are in the United States instead of changing things in their own countries.

“In the road ahead, two young men, two teenage boys really, tote AR-15s. Perhaps it’s precisely because that make of gun isn’t quite as prolific or as sexy as the ubiquitous AK-47 here that Lydia finds it all the more terrifying. Ridiculous, she knows. One gun will make you as dead as another. But there’s something so utilitarian about the sleek, black AR-15, like it can’t be bothered to put on a show.” (pg. 82 ARC)

There is a deep sense of powerlessness but also a determination to retrieve some power over their own lives. As Lydia and Luca cross paths with other migrants, the picture becomes more detailed, more graphic, more upending. Even Lydia must come to terms with her own perceptions and pities she had for migrants…those views she had before she was forced to become a migrant herself. Her life as a bookstore owner, reader, middle-income mother blinded her in many ways to what was right in front of her until it is already too late. Much of her blindness is due to her inability to resist the charm of an educated reader, someone who clearly sees in her prey to be captured. The decisions she makes from the moment of tragedy until the end of the novel are governed by a her new perspective. Never take a mother’s love for granted; it is a powerful force.

Migrants from Mexico and Central America struggle to make it to the United States, many atop La Bestia. They face starvation, dehydration, robbery, rape, murder, human trafficking and so much more, as the cartels continue to carve up these countries and sell their people to the highest bidder. IS America the sanctuary that many migrants believe it to be? No. But Cummins highlights those moments too in the stories Lydia is told from migrants returning home and those returning to the United States even though they were kicked out. With American dirt in the title, readers must reconsider what “American” means. Not all of the dirt/borders are considered American in the United States, yet residents of North and South America are all American.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is the “IT” book for 2020 and without question all of the hype and praise is well deserved. This book has so many layers and would be a fantastic pick for book clubs everywhere. It is life changing; it is a book to open the eyes of the “America” we want to be to the eyes of the America we are. We are all American, regardless of the country in which we live or which country we came from.

RATING: Cinquain

***If you are in the Gaithersburg, Md., area, please join us for our first book club. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was selected as the first book for Gaithersburg Reads, a community book club read.

***Our big, giant book discussion event with Jeanine Cummins will be on March 31st, 7pm, at Gaithersburg High School Performing Arts Center.

 

Other Reviews:

About the Author:

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