American Dirt has been the subject of controversy and criticism since 2019, when early readers first offered their opinions after seeing advance copies.
The book has been called “stereotypical,” and “appropriative” for “opportunistically, selfishly, and parasitically” telling the fictional story of a Mexican mother and son’s journey to the border after a cartel murders the rest of their family. 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.
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Back Cover Copy of American Dirt:
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.
About Jeanine Cummins:
Jeanine Cummins is the author of four books: the bestselling memoir A Rip in Heaven, and the novels The Outside Boy, The Crooked Branch, and American Dirt. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.