General Rating: This novel looks inside the mind of an illegal immigrant. Want to know why they risk their lives to come to America? Read this. Seldom does a book impact me like American Dirt.
Skip factor: 2%. I hate admitting this. I skipped paragraphs when I became so invested in the characters’ situations that I felt utter desperation and had to move on. Simply, I paged forward to find the outcome, many times returning to read Cummins’ great writing.
Who should read: Those who long to understand why some risk their lives to cross the border, compassionate people, or readers who enjoyed The Grapes of Wrath.
Disclaimer: There has been disparaging of this fictional story for several reasons. (I learned this from my wonderful Farmhouse Book Club friends.) I did not read a single word of the controversy before finishing the book or writing my review.
Summary: Lydia and Luca are from a middle-class family, and they live in Acapulco. Lydia, the wife, and Luca, the son, are the immediate family of journalist Sebastian Perez. Lydia owns a book store, and Luca attends private school.
The story opens dramatically with a devastating shooting/killing of Sebastian and fifteen other family members. By chance, Lydia and Luca are able to hide until the cartel members leave, and their journey begins.
This book is about that journey.
Characters: Although the novel portrays the life of fictional characters, the author has skillfully created people who seem so real you feel you know them and are walking, step-by-step, beside them as they flee for their lives.
Readers will love the boys, Luca & Beto, the teenage girls, Soledad and Rebeka, and Lydia, the young mother, along with interesting minor characters introduced along the way.
Because the characters seemed lifelike, I googled the author and wasn’t surprised to see she had done extensive research. To read about people/organizations who truly do risk their lives to help immigrants, check out her site at https://www.jeaninecummins.com/how-to-helppre/
Storyline: Cummins captures your attention in the opening chapter and holds it throughout the book. You can’t let go. You must find out if Lydia and Luca survive.
This novel is entirely about Lydia and Luca’s journey, the people they meet, the atrocities they see, and the pain they experience. With the cartel on their heels, Lydia is forced to ferry her son as far from Acapulco as she can manage. She heads toward el Norte and this consumes the storyline.
Cummins’s tremendous writing draws readers into the journey. You are alongside them jumping trains, limping from twisted ankles, traipsing through the cold black nights or scorching afternoons. She writes so eloquently I couldn’t put it down. You hold your breath at times. Her vivid descriptions of situations and settings and the migrants’ inner feelings reel you in and you become completely invested in not only the two main characters, but several of the people they meet along the way.
Read this author again? Yes, no question. I loved the writing.
CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.