American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is a fiction modern story about a mother named Lydia who loses everything in a cartel shootout at her home. She and the only other survivor of her family, her son Luca, flee Mexico into the U.S. to escape the cartel leader who could potentially kill them both if they remain in Mexico. **There are spoilers in this review so if you haven’t read it and plan to, I would recommend not reading this review.**
This story is tense, a bit gory, and mature. It begins with action (the shootout) to grip the reader. It then leads into ups and downs of Lydia and Luca finding their way out of town and out of Mexico. About halfway in, the story begins to drag going into the backstory of two teenage sisters they meet. It continues to drag for the most part until near the end when the story picks up again.
What I enjoyed about the book:
- Luca’s strength. I think his character could have been done better, but this isn’t to say it wasn’t done well. It was just okay. He was only eight and having to go through seeing his whole family murdered made him grow up real fast. Not only that, he had to endure seeing the things done to his mother and the sisters and many other things an eight-year-old shouldn’t have to see.
- Soledad’s character. She was way too shy and afraid at first but when she went crazy, I felt that. I wanted her to be more crazy. I wanted her strength to really show.
- The tension early on in the story, in the mountain/hills, and at the border was great. They were well written and had me eager to keep reading.
- Loved Cummins’ writing style. The words flowed and created a story that, if it weren’t for the lack of research, would have truly captivated me.
Initially, I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads.com. However, I thought more on it and decided to give it 3 stars for the following reasons.
- Lydia didn’t feel real. It could be that because I grew up in a highly populated Mexican community, had Mexican friends, and worked with them as well, I know their strengths and weaknesses somewhat and Lydia felt more Asian (shy, quiet, keep to themselves, etc.) in her demeanor. She seemed very clueless and surprised at how the cartels operated, how sneaking on the trains worked, etc. Her character felt more like a tourist in a country she didn’t know very well, not a native.
- All the Mexican males were either wanting to rape the three females or they were older and fatherly. Or, they were with one cartel or another. I wanted to see a good-hearted man who neither wanted to rape nor was part of a cartel. I don’t believe they are all bad.
- Cummins wrote in the book that ALL Mexican illegal immigrants come to the U.S. because of some dealings with the drug cartels. This isn’t true and I hope others who read it don’t take this as a truth. I get the feeling Cummins is trying to make the reader sympathize with why Mexicans need to be in the U.S. illegally. She also mentioned something about more journalists were being murdered in Mexico during Trumps administration in 2017. I personally wish she’d left the political stuff and party favoritism out. It puts a sour taste in my mouth when an author favors any party and tries to shove it down the reader’s throat.
- Lydia and Luca wanted to come to Denver where a distant uncle lived but the uncle and Denver weren’t mentioned again at the end. Also, Denver is a big city and there is a large Mexican population there and not all are illegals. Luca would have made lots of friends easily. If all the illegals were escaping the cartels, it would mean they’d all share a common story and help each other to survive in a foreign country, but that’s not so. There is a huge gap between Lydia and Lucas’s story and the reality of what’s really out there. I don’t claim to know everything and am open to learning facts, but this story was hinting at facts that wasn’t. I felt like it was a bit of propaganda because of the election coming, and it’s unfortunate because I really wanted to love this book.
- If the cartel really wanted to go after Lydia and Luca, they’d find them in the U.S. or any country for that matter. Borders won’t stop them from getting what they want in a different country.
What I truly enjoyed about the story was the action and suspense. If the setting was in a post-apocalyptic world, the story and style would fit perfectly.