A Longtime Favourite Author, A Six Month Debate on Whether or Not I Should Post This Review | Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

4:35 PM

It's no secret that Jeanine Cummins single handedly inspired me to write true crime with A Rip in Heaven. If you've been a reader on my blog at any point in the last decade, you already know my fondness for that work of non-fiction. American Dirt, is, however, another story entirely--and has rightfully stirred up controversy. In an effort to not talk over the voices of those who were deeply effected by Cummins' work, I've procrastinated writing this review.


American Dirt
by Jeanine Cummins

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 by Jeanine Cummins
Rating:
As always, a copy of this book was provided by the authors in exchange for my honest review. This does not effect my opinion in any way.  

As a white woman, I have numerous privileges and have never quite felt comfortable speaking for others. Instead, I listen. While I was initially excited to see American Dirt arrive late last year, due to my prior success with the author's work, I was also hesitant due to the then-ongoing negative buzz surrounding the novel and its author and publisher.

From insensitive and highly distasteful marketing (seriously, what were you guys thinking--barbed wire center pieces?) to speaking over the voices of minorities, nearly every second since the first batch of ARCs were sent out American Dirt has created a stream of frustration, hurt, people being coerced into silence, and in the end left many of us with a bad taste in our mouth.

Upon reading the novel, one thing became clear: All the criticism, of course, was rightfully deserved. Soon, my excitement over American Dirt began to wane and I decided to, instead, focus my energy on elevating the voices of POC who came out against this novel. Mostly, there isn't a lot that can be said from my point of view, but many voice's who have spoken out about American Dirt in a critical manner can be found scattered across the internet.

(I highly recommend looking into pieces written by Esmeralda Bermudez, Myriam Gurba and Roxane Gay. Although, by no means should you limit yourself to only those three.)

Even in the right headspace, there's not really much to add to the conversation beyond the fact that this book was a complete fumble. While Jeanine Cummins' writing is sharp enough, American Dirt remains merely one thing: exploitative, melodramatic, trauma porn that profits off of something that Cummins, frankly, has no claim to.

At the end of the day, American Dirt feels unnecessary when so many author's of colour are out there speaking from experience. My only advice to readers is to, of course, listen to what other's are saying and research the problematic nature of this particular novel. Then, support author's of colour instead.

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