“American Dirt” by: Jeanine Cummins

Hi friends & Happy Thursday!

Hope you are all having a wonderful week so far! 

Anyone else wanna talk about the snow we saw over the Mother’s Day weekend? I’m not sure what kinda sick joke Mother Nature’s playing on us but have we not been through enough this year already?! 

ANYWAYS…if you couldn’t tell from the name of this blog, or from the never ending lipstick related content…I.LOVE.MAKEUP. It excites me to my very core +  I could quite literally talk about my favourite lipsticks, mascaras + bronzers until I’m blue in the face. That being said, I do realize that while I’m frivolously spending my money on all of the newest makeup launches, you’re being smart with your money + don’t necessarily wanna hear about all the products you’re not prepared to buy…just yet. And so, I thought I’d hit the pause button on the makeup content (for today) & chat about another love of mine, one that all of us can enjoy…and that’s reading! That’s right friends, today I’m coming atcha with another little book review! 

So get yourself a coffee or a cocktail (because it doesn’t even matter if it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, you deserve it) and sit back + relax because this one’s gonna be a long one. 

Now, before we dive in, I’m going to preface this post with a little disclaimer (or rant, I’ll let you decide). This next book has created QUITE the stir following it’s release earlier this year + I’m fired up! So I need to say my peace before we begin, so bear with me! 

Merriam Websters dictionary defines “Fiction” as being: something invented by the imagination or feigned. 

Synonyms for “Fiction” include:

– fabrication

– fantasy 

– figment 

– invention

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, welcome to my TED Talk. 

UNLESS I’ve decided I’m taking a post-pandemic trip to Timbuktu (which doesn’t sound so bad at this point) + have picked up a travellers guide, let the record state that I’m not reading a fictional book to learn about a country, its culture or its inhabitants. 

“American Dirt” (the topic of today’s post) did not make its way into my shopping basket so I could learn about Mexico, the cartels, or to understand the challenges that people face who are seeking a better life. I didn’t purchase this one so I could pass judgement or create opinions of those people based on the fantasy, figment or fabrication in the book that’s before me. Furthermore, when I pick up a book that is classified as “fiction”, I’m looking to it as a source of entertainment as I would Harry Potter (although let’s be real, Harry’s not my jam. Now Lord of the Rings is more my style. Anyone else have the hots for Elijah Wood in those movies? No, just me? Okay…well this is awkward). Annnyways, as was the case with the last book we chatted about, did I pick up “Where The Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens (click here if you missed it) in order to learn about North Carolina in the 1940s?! Umm, that would be a giant no! 

Now, you’re probably sipping your wine asking yourself where the heck I’m going with all this. Since finishing “American Dirt”, I’ve watched countless scathing reviews on YouTube and I’ll admit, I’m totally perturbed by what I’ve been hearing. Thousands of people are trying to debunk the fiction that the author (Jeanine Cummins) wrote about and that just rattles me…you know, since it’s FICTION. 

Here are a few of the reviews I found on Goodreads:

I lost count of how many times this book was called stereotypical or racist. One colourful review I found stated that this book was “appropriative for opportunistically, selfishly and parasitically” telling the fictional story of a Mexican mother and sons journey to the US.  Vulture.com has a pretty great article detailing the controversy + one section of that article that really fires me up says…

“One of the more common knocks is that the book engages in “brownface,” incorporating a nominally Mexican perspective that was written by a woman who — as recently as 2016 — identified as “white.” In the lead-up to American Dirt’s release, Cummins revealed she has a Puerto Rican grandmother. The conversation surrounding American Dirt’s “ripped from the headlines” approach to telling this migrant story in an American voice for American readers places it within ongoing debates in the lit world about who can tell what stories.” 

Just so we’re on the same page, in order to tell this FICTIONAL story about a Mexican mother and sons journey, the author has to be from Mexico? Seriously, I’m having a hard time with this. 

Ughh, I even read that Oprah was under scrutiny for selecting “American Dirt” to be featured in her book club. People felt that if she was going to select a book that details the story of a Mexican family, it should have been one that was written by a Mexican author…I mean, can you hear my eyes rolling from behind this post?! 

I’ll be honest, it’s taken me SO long to put this little post together. I’ve written + RE-written it at least a dozen times trying to get my thoughts across without offending anyone or coming across as being insensitive to a topic I know nothing about. I also don’t want to make this post about something that it’s not. That being said, I feel like by including this book in my 2020 reviews, I need to include not only my thoughts, but the thoughts of others (both good and bad), especially when it’s been as controversial as it has been. I’m ALL for a book that creates healthy conversations however if it takes on a mind of it’s own, like I believe this one has, then I do think we need to step back and look at what we’re actually saying (and perhaps WHY we’re saying it). 

Anyways, while that digests, let’s take a closer look at book review #3…

THE BASICS

Title: “American Dirt” 

Author: Jeanine Cummins 

Price: $20 CAD (from Indigo)

Genre: Fiction

Number of pages: 383

Started Reading: March 1st, 2020

Finished Reading: March 8th, 2020 

Goodreads score: 4.26/5 

ABOUT

#1 New York Times Bestseller OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK

Extraordinary.” –Stephen King

“This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas. It’s the great world novel! This is the international story of our times. Masterful.”
-Sandra Cisneros

También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.

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?

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.

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

MY THOUGHTS 

You may (or may not) have noticed that I didn’t start this post with a quote like I normally do. After finishing this book, I took to Pinterest in search of the perfect “reading quote”. I didn’t expect to find a quote that so perfectly summed up my experience with this book…

“That moment when you finish a book, look around, and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives as though you didn’t just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback!” 

Having finished the final words on page 383 of “American Dirt”, as I lay in my comfy, queen size bed in the safe little town of Ancaster, I can remember putting down the book + just breathing a sigh of relief. I genuinely felt like over the last few days, I too, had endured a dangerous, heart wrenching trek, thousands of miles from home, dirt on my face, blisters on my feet. The sound of a basketball hitting the ground, a car horn in the distance, finally bringing me back to reality. In that moment, I realized that I had become numb to the world around me, like I had physically been here in Ancaster, while my mind was off in Mexico. This book had allowed me to be in two VERY different places all at once. 

These last two books have taken me on two VERY different, emotional journeys. From page one, I knew this was going to be a much different book than I was used to reading, one that would likely change the way I selected books in the future. This book starts with a bang, well actually SEVERAL bangs. In the heart of Acapulco, a family has gathered for a quinceañera. The sun is shining, children are playing, the smell of burgers encompassing the air, the muffled chatter of men congregated around the BBQ. Within seconds it begins, the rapid gunfire, the screams. 

A day that should have been filled with so much love + happiness quickly ends in absolute horror. Huddled in the shower, Lydia and her young son Luca (who happened to be in the house while the rest of their family were out back) hold their breath, close their eyes, shocked from the horror that is mere feet from them. Once the cartel have left, machine guns likely still hot from the hundreds of rounds that have just been fired, the trek to safety begins. “American Dirt” details the journey that this mother/son duo take, following the senseless slaughter of their entire family. I found myself having to stop reading several times in order to fully comprehend what I was reading. 

After finishing the first few chapters, I found myself wondering…

1) How incredibly torn you’d be leaving your slain family behind. Leaving your entire world, knowing you’d likely never return. 

2) Assuming you decide to flee, what the heck do you bring with you? What’s essential, what’s going to weigh you down? 99.999% of us would immediately think to bring our phones. In this case, is a phone going to hinder your trek to safety? 

3) Is it safe to remain in Acapulaco?

4) If you had to leave, where would it be safe? Where do you go?

4) Who can you trust (especially considering there are cartel spies around every corner)

Once I finished the book, I also wondered what the journey would have looked like had it been a father and son making the trek? Or even a father and daughter? Would people be as sympathetic to a man making this journey? 

“American Dirt” was SO well written + the imagery in this book made it such a captivating read. While I can’t begin to understand the events that transpired in this book, at one point, the author details the blisters that have covered Lydia’s feet. I immediately thought back to the countless times I’d been out + realized that a blister had formed. I don’t know about you but in those moments, I’m waving the white flag, searching for the nearest place to sit so I can nurse my wounded heel. I really can’t imagine having to ignore the sharp sting of a blister because you have no choice but to keep moving. 

This book was not on my radar. I had heard people talk about it, but if I’m being honest, I just got sick of seeing it at the Indigo checkout counter. When I noticed that it was a “Heather’s Pick”, I thought “why not” + added it to my tower of purchases. If Heather has taught me anything, it’s that she knows her sh*t when it comes to books, and this one was no exception. 

And there you have it friends! 

What do you think of all the controversy surrounding this book? Do you think it’s justified? 

Thanks so much for stopping by & until next time!

Stay safe friends, 

    xo 

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