American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Source: Publisher
Hardcover, 400 pgs.
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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.

First Book of The Year 2020

It’s that time of year when everyone shares their first book of 2020.

I’m cheating a bit, as I did start this book when I received the ARC this past month, but I want to get back to it. It’s not the book that stopped me from reading, it was life — the swim mom life.

So, I will be getting back to this as my first book of 2020. (drum roll, please)

What’s you’re first book of 2020?

Mailbox Monday #554

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins for review.

Lydia Quixano Pérez 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 a few 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?

Were We Awake by L.M. Brown for review.

In each story, events make the characters understand that their world is not as it seemed.

In Hidden, the discovery of an affair between her father and aunt is only the start of finding hidden secrets for Hazel.

What It Means to Be Empty-Handed is narrated by a fourteen–year-old daughter of an alcoholic. Her denial and elaborate imagination starts to disintegrate when she lies to the wrong person.

In Communion, a seven year old boy believes the mourners arriving at his best friend’s house next door are attending a party and he wants to go.

What did you receive?

The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins

Source: Borrowed from Anna at Diary of an Eccentric
Paperback, 373 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins is a dual narrative novel with heroines in present day Queens, N.Y., and County of Mayo, Ireland, during the potato famine when a blight hit all of the crops and the fever was rampant.  Normally, readers either connect with the present day or the historical narrative in books like this, but the eventual entanglement of these narratives reinforces the strength, weaknesses, fears, and courage mothers must face when they are responsible for children.  Majella is a new mother who had certain expectations about motherhood, which are blown to bits in her first emotional months after Emma is born, while Ginny is an Irish potato farmer whose husband ventures to America in the hope that he will send money home to keep his family from being evicted after the blight destroys their crops.

“They didn’t notice that pungent bitterness in the dark, beyond their walls, and turf fires, beyond the milky breath of their sleeping children.  They slept, while that mortal fog stole into their bright, green country, and grew like a merciless stain across the darkened land.  It killed every verdant thing it touched.” (page 2)

Majella considers herself a strong, independent woman with a mother that is less than connected to her own emotions, let along those of her daughter, but when she gives birth to her first child, fears rise up in Majella awful fast.  She’s scrambling for something to hold onto other than her fears and her daughter because holding her too tightly could cause even more harm.  Leo, her husband is supportive but must work and even then, his nerves are fraying with all of his wife’s tears and outbursts.  Her brash and unfiltered commentary on motherhood and her fears is fresh and tangible, and will speak to the hearts of every new mother who has floundered and wondered about how to be a mother.

“I passed out.  The contractions were ferocious because the doctor had turned off my epidural so I could feel them.  As if I was in danger of not feeling the eight-pound child who was attempting to exit my body.  He was a male doctor, and he thought the pain would help me push, which is like the philosophy that waterboarding helps people confess to hiding weapons of mass destruction.” (page 7)

Ginny is another strong woman and she’s forced by their poor circumstances as tenant farmers to take her family’s fate in her own hands after her husband’s letters do not come for months.  As she comes to the estate of Mrs. Alice Springs, she begs for the lives of herself, her children, and her unborn son, seeking employment and safety as the world around them crumbles to Irish dust.  Even though life as a chambermaid is not hellish at the estate, what is is the separation from her children with the knowledge that the crops have gone bad and that they could be starving.  She musters the courage and crafts a plan to save them and herself, at least for a while.

Cummins’ passionate prose brings these women’s struggles to life, making them relate-able in ways that readers will never foresee.  Motherhood is both joyous and full of struggle, and it is life-altering in so many ways, much more so in modern society where women work outside the home and have innumerable choices.  What the author is able to build is an underlying tension between the narratives that pulls the reader forward, hooking them to the very last page when their connections are revealed in full.  What Majella learns about herself and her family will propel her beyond the hormonal mess she has become, and what Ginny has learned as a chambermaid working outside the home, forces her to assume the mantle of decisionmaker at a time when few women did.  The Crooked Branch by Jeanine Cummins is stunning and a powerful read that will open up readers eyes to the emotional and psychological mess that new mothers face, often alone if their husbands and own families are unavailable emotionally.

About the Author:

Jeanine Cummins is the author of the bestselling memoir A Rip in Heaven, which People magazine called: “…a straightforward, expertly paced narrative that reads like a novel.” She lives in New York City.



This is my 3rd book for the Ireland Reading Challenge 2013.




This is my 52nd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.