REVIEW: American Dirt

“She sticks her hand through the fence and wiggles her fingers on the other side. Her fingers are in el norte. She spits through the fence. Only to leave a piece of herself there on American dirt.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

I chose to read American Dirt because I had been waiting for it to be delivered for as long as I can remember (I think I ordered the book at the end of February). And when it arrived, it was even more beautiful than I imagined. It’s one of these new floppy hardbacks? I don’t know if you have any on your shelves but they are just gorgeous to hold and read so yeah, it had to be my next read. 

What Did I Think?

First of all, I want to address the controversy surrounding this book. I hadn’t realised how split public opinion is of this book until tweeting about it being my current read and receiving an influx of people telling me that they either loved it or hated it. I couldn’t understand why people felt so strongly towards it. 

So I read the book, waiting for something hugely controversial to slap me right in the face, and it just didn’t happen. The book is beautifully paced; the chapters are short and there’s always some sort of cliffhanger that leads you on to the next, the characters develop just right so the book doesn’t progress too quickly or too slowly, and lastly, I think the story is wonderful and Jeanine Cummins does a brilliant job of highlighting the dangers and sacrifices that migrants endure on their journeys to ‘freedom’. I think the ending was really touching in the way it highlighted that their lives were still in danger. 

“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.”

So I was astonished to find out that the controversy about this book is due to the fact that it is written by a white woman, who is also not Mexican. OK. I understand it from both points of view. I understand that yes, Jeanine Cummins is not Mexican, and the way she portrays Mexico could be understood to be nothing but murder, drugs and gang violence. That the way she portrays life in Mexico is exactly that of the stereotypes associated with the country. And yes personally, being white myself, I would probably not set out to write a book about a black person living in London because I do not have personal experience of either and would therefore in my opinion, not portray the characters correctly. This is where the problem lies.

Yet, Jeanine Cummins in her author’s note at the end of the book draws upon the fact that she is white and that some people discouraged her to write this book because she apparently has no idea what she is talking about. She goes on to say that she spent endless days, months, years formulating her research for this book, spending time on the Mexico/US border, talking to families, citizens, and migrants on their experiences. So she didn’t just wake up one day and write American Dirt from the preconceptions in her head. She took the time to do the research and listen to people’s harrowing stories, in the hope that she could help retell their stories for all to hear. 

I think she does a marvelous job in creating an encapsulating story that gives voice to those that are so often silenced by ludicrous xenophobic stereotypes and news stories. Would people find the same story to be more believable if the author was black or from Mexican heritage? Probably, and that just simply blows my mind. 

Rant over, if you’re still here, thanks for listening haha! Seriously though, interesting read and one you should definitely check out! 

“Though they all come from different places and different circumstances, some urban, some rural, some middle-class, some poor, some well educated, some illiterate, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, Mexican, Indian, each of them carries some story of suffering on top of that train and into el norte beyond.”

American Dirt

Rating: 3 out of 5.

20 thoughts on “REVIEW: American Dirt

  1. I had just added this book to my reading list recently when I heard of the controversy surrounding it, and decided to put the book away for a while at least. Though reading your review has made me want to pick it up again, so I think I’ll definitely give it a go!
    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Aw thank you, really means a lot! I think people shouldn’t be discouraged from reading it because of its controversy! However, I do love reading everyone’s thoughts 😂

  2. Good review. Hate all these silly people getting in a tizzy over nothing. Might as well say how can you set your novel in the 18th century because you don’t have any personal experience! 🙄

  3. I think a lot of the reaction was to do with the publicity Jeanine Cummins received, compared to writers on a similar topic who are not white (and I think Cummins has some Latino heritage, so she’s not totally unqualified to write about the Mexican migrant experience). She looks very striking and glamorous, it has to be said, and maybe there are some readers and other writers who felt that if she’d looked less so, her novel wouldn’t have attracted the media coverage it did before the controversy broke. Good that you’ve been able to read the novel objectively.

  4. OMG you must have missed the HUGE explosion that happened in January, discussions and boycotts where everywhere. I was looking forward to the book but I still haven’t read it. I think it’s mostly because the book has has this bitter after taste now. I’m planning on reading it this year or in 2021. I’m not in a hurry, but I want to get to it eventually.

    1. I know I completely missed it! Yeah and it’s a shame that it has this bitter after taste now because it is a great story and I really enjoyed it! You’ll have to let me know what you think!

      1. I’ll do that, but it will probably take me a few more months, maybe even closer to the end of the year. But I hope when I get to it, I can forget all the controversy and just enjoy the book.

  5. This sounds like such a great book to read. I love a book that leave each chapter on a cliffhanger because then I just want to keep on reading. Great review

  6. I remember this being a massive thing on Twitter and I was totally on the side of ‘I’m never going to read this now!!!’ but your review might have actually swayed me!! While I do completely agree with the whole own voices thing, if something is well researched then I don’t see why it should be boycotted. That said, I guess a white writer is more likely to be published and get good publicity. There really are two sides to the coin. It’s great that you managed to read it objectively though, and probably a good thing you missed most of the controversy at the time which meant you were able to do that!! Great review, and very thoughtful.

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