American Dirt [Book Review]

April 10, 2020

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (cover)

Genre/Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Suspense, Family Drama, Migrant, Mother/Child, Hispanic

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.


Lydia, her journalist husband, and their young son live a comfortable, middle-class life in Acapulco, Mexico. Lydia and her husband are following their dreams: Lydia owns a bookshop while her husband writes investigative pieces that expose gang crime in the area. One day Lydia unknowingly befriends a charming bookshop customer who turns out to be the head of the newest drug cartel that has taken over the city. Her friendship with Javier sets in motion a tragic sequence of events that force Lydia and her eight-year-old son to flee for their lives.

My Thoughts:

Unrelenting drama, suspense, harrowing experiences, grief, and trauma.

Whew! This is an intense read! From the first page (which describes a massacre) to the last, I had to remind myself to breathe. I felt like I was on the run with Lydia.

Plot Driven: Although the story is heavily plot-driven, Lydia is also a well-drawn and complicated character. If you love a fast-paced and tension-filled storyline, you will likely appreciate American Dirt.

Controversial: I chose to read American Dirt in spite of the controversy that surrounds it. I had read enough good reviews that I wanted to see for myself. Being aware of and appreciating the objections helped me read with a more critical mindset. At times, I thought “OK, this is one person’s experience or perspective, but I wonder if this is typical or a stereotype.” To be fair, stereotypes are something I frequently think about when reading any book. It would have been helpful to buddy read American Dirt with an “own voices” reader who could point out certain stereotypes. As a reader who is white and growing in awareness, nothing stood out to me as objectionable or unfair. However, I’m well aware that a reader with more experience and first-hand knowledge might have different reactions and opinions. Finally, I think I feel that if an author has done five years of research, she probably has a great deal of knowledge and the heart to write this story (I’m still thinking about this). Here are two articles I found that will help explain the controversy:

American Dirt Controversy Explained

To Read or Not to Read

Themes: Thoughtful themes include found family, a mother’s determination to save/protect her child, trust, taking care of others, found family, survival, grit, grief, surviving life’s threatening circumstances, on the run, current events, freedom of the press, and fighting for a brighter and safer future.

Overall, I’m glad I read American Dirt even though it was an emotionally difficult read. I felt a bit overwhelmed with the drama in the sense that every dire circumstance was being thrown at me (and Lydia).

Recommended: I’m recommending American Dirt for readers who might appreciate a survival story, for those who are curious about the controversy, for readers who enjoy themes about current events, and for fans of stories that feature a brave and determined mother who is focused solely on saving her child.

Trigger and Content Warnings: a massacre (first few pages), fear, rape, life-threatening circumstances, death

Own Voices: If you are an “own voices” reviewer, I’d love to link your review here. Please drop a link in the comments.

My Rating: 4 Stars


American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (author)

American Dirt Information Here

Meet the Author, Jeanine Cummins

Author, Jeannine 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.





Have you read American Dirt? Is it on your TBR or will you skip this one? Why or why not?

Do you feel this is a fair review?

(insensitive or inflammatory comments will not be approved)

If you are an “own voices” reviewer, I’d love to read (and possibly link) your review. Please drop a link in the comments.


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26 thoughts on “American Dirt [Book Review]

  1. I also read tons of reviews of this, and know about the controversy (I did a discussion post about it). So, I went to the “read more” on Amazon to see if I could garner any inkling of if I should read it or not from there. I’m afraid that it just didn’t turn me on. The opening scene was so confusing for me, I knew it wasn’t for me. But I’m sure you’re glad you read it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a difficult read for me. I had decided not to read it and then my IRL book club chose it for April so I was committed. I was conflicted about reviewing it, too. Whenever there’s a lot of controversy, I admit that I like to see for myself, but In the end I felt like it was a bit over the top and more suspense than I appreciate!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It can be read as a mother/child survival story. There’s very little mention of politics and 90% of the story takes place in Mexico. One of the criticisms is that it’s written for white readers. Most reviewers who really love it, love the mother/son aspect.


    • Exactly! When I told my IRL book club about the controversy, their reaction was “now we need to read it!” I understand the concern and objections from own voices reviewers but there was too much social media pressure to not read the book. That part annoyed me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m going to be reading this next month so appreciated reading your honest and fair-sounding review now. To be honest, the whole controversy surrounding it only made me want to read it more – a bit like you said, I want to see it for myself before I feel able to step into the conversation properly. I feel like I understand both sides at the moment but I want to be able to judge the book for itself rather than what I’ve read about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree! I understand the concern and objections by own voices reviewers but I also didn’t appreciate the widespread pressure from social media to boycott. Honestly, I was looking for the objectionable parts and they didn’t stand out to me as a white reader. I’ll be eager to hear what you think!


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  5. I think most of the stereotype here was the depiction of Mexicans working for the cartel. It would be like generalizing all Asians as being Crazy Rich. Know what I mean? I read this one too, but DNF’D it cause I personally didn’t enjoy the story. It’s just too bad this book and author were targeted when there are so many other books being written by authors who are not an own voices author (ex. The Help & Memoirs of a Geisha, to name a couple). Great review! I’m glad you still chose to read it to form your own opinion and enjoyed it 🙂👏

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your insight! I definitely understand your stereotype analogy!

      The story was so harrowing and every possible circumstance was thrown at them which felt very overwhelming! I kept reading because I wanted to know they would be ok!

      I, too, kept thinking about all the other authors who are not own voices and wondered why she was targeted? She seems to have spent several years researching so that helped me trust her.

      Thanks so much for taking time to comment!


      • No problem! You’re welcome! I felt bad for her to be honest, cause like you said, she did her research and spent time at the Mexican border. I think perhaps it was marketed wrong and maybe an oversight on the Publisher’s part. People talk about being kind, but those who opposed this author was anything but. I love it when an author actually does their research and is brave enough to then tell a story. It never bothers me if the author is not of that ethnicity they wrote about. It just has to be a damn good story. In fiction, I personally could care less if it’s accurate or not. Ya know? If I wanted accuracy, I’ll go read non-fiction 😜

        Liked by 1 person

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  8. Wonderful post Carol. I appreciate your thoughtful review and the links to the articles. I wanted to read this one and had even put my name of the list at the library for it, but in the end, I have decided to pass on it. I may still read it one day, but not right now.

    Liked by 1 person

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