Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt…

About the Book:

The unforgettable story of a mother and son fleeing a drug-cartel to cross the US-Mexico border.

‘I couldn’t put it down. I’ll never stop thinking about it’ Ann Patchett
‘One hell of a novel about a good woman on the run with her beautiful boy’ Stephen King


Vivid, visceral, utterly compelling, AMERICAN DIRT is the first novel to explore the experience of attempting to illegally cross the US-Mexico border. Described as ‘A Grapes of Wrath for our times’ (Don Winslow) it is a story that will leave you utterly changed.

Yesterday, Lydia had a bookshop.
Yesterday, Lydia was married to a journalist.
Yesterday, she was with everyone she loved most in the world.

Today, her eight-year-old son Luca is all she has left.

For him, she will carry a machete strapped to her leg.
For him, she will leap onto the roof of a high speed train.
For him, she will find the strength to keep running.

My Thoughts:

‘In 2017, a migrant died every twenty-one hours along the United States-Mexico border.’

American Dirt is a novel that has a very clear and well-timed agenda, not just for the US, but for other countries too. This novel made me consider much about my own country and its offshore detention facilities and the way in which fear de-individualises people; how it works its way into the community, and then onto political agendas, consequently normalising intolerance and criminalising asylum seekers.

The lives of so many people in so many places around the world are horrific on an incomprehensible scale and those of us who are so fortunate to live in safety and comfort should seek ways to understand what it means to be a migrant; to fully appreciate that the lengths people go to when attempting to enter a country is measurable with their desperation and the risk against their lives, not because they are dishonest and trying to take a short cut. The corruption surrounding entry into the US via Mexico is tragic; the de-humanising resentment directed towards those who actually do make it across the border is even more so – I have read of this in more books than this one. I cannot believe we live in a world where citizens of a nation that uphold themselves as world leaders go ‘migrant hunting’. I am appalled at the lack of humanity and question the moral fabric of any society whose leaders turn a blind eye to this.

‘“The trucks look more like vigilantes than carteleros.”
“How can you tell?” Choncho asks.
“They’re not fancy enough to be narcos. And if they’re vigilantes, as I suspect, they’ve probably gone migrant-hunting up the trail on the far side. We wait here. They’ll eventually go back to the trucks and we can pass after they leave.”’

American Dirt is a powerful novel. While it examines the migration between Mexico and the US, the core themes are globally applicable. Never have I felt the weight of my Western privilege more than while reading this novel. Within every migrant beats a human heart. They are not other. They are us born elsewhere. Despite the controversy surrounding this novel, it does provide a catalyst for further reading.

‘She scrambles the few feet down the gravelly embankment to where the rusty red fence digs into the earth, and she wraps her fingers around two of the thick red posts and leans her forehead against the bars, and she can see very clearly then, that the fence is only a psychological barrier, and that the real impediment to crossing here is the technology on the other side. There’s a dirt road over there that follows the jagged landscape wherever it leads. The road is worn smooth by the regular accommodation of the heavy tires of the United States Border Patrol. Soledad cannot see them, but she can sense them there, just out of sight. She sees the evidence of their proximity in the whirring electronics mounted on tall poles that dot the hillsides. She doesn’t know what those contraptions are –cameras or sensors or lights or speakers –but whatever they are, she can sense that they’re aware of her presence. 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.’


Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing me with a NetGalley copy of American Dirt for review.

About the Author:

Jeanine Cummins is the author of three books: the novels The Outside Boy and The Crooked Branch and one true crime work, A Rip in Heaven. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.

American Dirt
Published by Hachette Australia – Tinder Press
Released 21st January 2020

19 thoughts on “Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

  1. On the weekend, I read quite a scathing review of this book, saying it wasn’t worth the hype, complaining about weak characterisation and bad writing in several places. I felt a bit torn, since I’d been keen to read American Dirt. Your review has encouraged me to decide for myself – it sounds like the novel affected you deeply and that always makes me want to read a book.
    Thanks Theresa.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wonder if there was an agenda behind that review…
      Ann Patchett loved this book and is promoting it heavily in her bookshop. Since I love everything she writes, I figured I’d love what she read too, and I was right.
      This book will make many people uncomfortable but in my view, that’s more about them than the book itself, as is the way with topics like this.
      If you do read it, let me know what you think!


  2. I literally just today got this book thrust into my hands, I’m going to be reviewing it in the next week or two – all the more eager now having read your review. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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