Book Review: “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins

Cover of "American Dirt" by Jeannie Cummins
Cover of “American Dirt” by Jeannie Cummins

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins!

“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?”

Content Warning & Disclaimer:

This book contains a fictional depiction of immigrant/migrant experiences. I have little-to-no knowledge of what they are like, so I cannot discuss the accuracy of them being depicted in this book.

I also want to warn that there is murder, shootings, attempted and actual assault, miscarriage, gang violence, abusive relationships, discussed sexual assault and/or rape, attempted and actual rape, and death threats throughout this book. If you are sensitive to such content, please read this book carefully or skip reading it entirely.

Plot Development: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The plot, at its core, is fairly simple – it follows the journeys of several characters migrating to the United States after the previous locations they came from became too dangerous for them, for various reasons. However, the journey is fraught with all sorts of dangers, and the book does not shy away from discussing and exploring the troubles of getting the right paperwork to pass through, having the resources to stay alive and pay anyone forcing them to pay to get to the next leg of the journey, the sexual abuse and assault that women often suffer from trying to make it to the next destination, and so on.

I wish I could explain more about what made the story so interesting, but I would give away major spoilers about the characters and their varied backstories if I did. It is overall engaging, and despite the constant flashbacks, the pacing of the story does not feel bogged down by it.

Character Development: 4 out of 5 stars

Many of the characters were ones that I learned to understand their motivations and actions for why they were crossing the border into a safer place. Though most of the book focused on Lydia and her son Luca, there were also other characters this book focused on, such as Soledad and her sister Rebeca. As more of their backstories were revealed in between the scenes of their long, arduous journey to get across the border for the sake of a better life and safety, I felt that I understood all of them and they felt like fully fleshed-out people.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4 out of 5 stars!

This was a very engaging book that drew me in as a reader. Even though I didn’t know much about what could happen during migration, especially in a refugee-oriented scenario such as the ones highlighted in this book, I felt that I got a good glimpse into what it was like, and the details this book shared brought the fictional journeys to life.


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