‘American Dirt’ by Jeanine Cummins

American-Dirt-CumminsAmerican Dirt by Jeanine Cummins tells one of the most important stories of our time. A story of heroism and bravery, of fear and unfairness, and of what it means to live a life to its fullest.

Lydia and Luca are the two main characters of American Dirt: an upper-middle class mother and son from Acapulco. Their lives are turned upside down on page one when their entire family is murdered by an infamous gang. The pair narrowly escape from the wreckage alive and quickly turn from their quiet lives to become migrants in a sea of rage and despair. Their destination is el norte, but they have no idea how they’re going to get there or of the terrors they will encounter on the way.

On their journey, Lydia and Luca befriend others who are fleeing dangerous and unstable lives for the hope of something better. While their journey is a harrowing one and the messages that come from it are important, where American Dirt falls flat is in its character development and plotline. The characters all have interesting and exciting backgrounds that the reader gains access to, but it often feels like the way in which we learn about those characters is through an information dump rather than through slow and meticulous crafting of the characters and their relationships to one another. People die, but never is the reader close enough to the character or the action to feel the anguish of that death. Similarly, the plot points in the book are action packed and empirically should evoke terror, but they feel very scripted and somewhat too easily escaped. In this way, the important messages of American Dirt, while still visible and pertinent, get somewhat lost in the book’s almost didactic feel.

Overall, Jeanine Cummins’ book is one that tells a story of paramount importance at a time when migration and migrants are such buzz words in our contemporary culture. It becomes problematic when told by someone who lives outside of the reality of what it means to be Mexican, Mexican-American, or an asylum seeker. The issues brought up in the book need attention called to them, but the questions remain as to whether this was the best way or best person to tell this story. Cummins herself addresses this in the afterword of her novel, but defends her decision to write the book based on personal experience, heritage, and the importance of the story itself.

Slated for release from Flatiron Books in January of 2020, you can preorder a copy of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins at your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir’ by Jean Guerrero

crux-guerreroWhat is it that determines definitions: defines something as one thing instead of another? What delimits fiction from reality, sanity from insanity? Borders: the lines that stand between; the lines that distinguish “different” from “same.” Borders that are rarely clear and often obfuscated by our own perceptions, by what we bring to the table, the baggage we carry.

Borders are what Jean Guerrero investigates in her narrative nonfiction release Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir. Guerrero sets out not only to tell her story, but to tell that of her father through both her memories and the investigative work it requires to unravel her family’s troubled and often curricular past.

Guerrero begins by setting the scene, by introducing the reader to her parents, to what life was like growing up as the child of her parents. Her mother, an acclaimed doctor with expectations that reach no lower that straight A grades and flawless chastity, holds one end of the parenting tight rope. Her father, a potential schizophrenic who sees every action as sabotage or a symptom of being spoiled, holds the other. Guerrero finds herself trying to walk between them, seeking desperately to both please and thwart their expectations, wishes, and demands of her.

Most of Guerrero’s life is spent without her father, wondering where he is, thinking he’s dead. The other part of the time, Guerrero spends, at least her childhood, terrified of her father. Terrified of his mania, of his accusations, of feeling like a failure in his eyes. Her mother spends most of Guerrero’s childhood trying to forget her husband, arguing that he’s schizophrenic and telling Guerrero, whenever she acts out of line in her mother’s eyes, that she suffers from the same mental illness. Her father meanwhile, claims he is being targeted by the CIA for mind control experiments, and Guerrero experiences moments that make her question the dubiousness of his statements.

Guerrero finds her way through her troubled childhood to come out an investigative journalist constantly seeking for the truth that alluded her as a child. But the biggest mystery, the biggest truth she hopes to hold is that of her father’s life. Travelling through Mexico to piece together the mystery of her family and her father’s past, Guerrero uncovers a cycle of abuse that has perpetuated her family’s suffering. She learns of the terrors that the women who came before her suffered to give her father life and her. She learns of the terrors her own father suffered and that potentially led him to the depths of his current despair.

A beautifully moving and terrifying memoir, Crux is a book that attempts not to teach, but to learn and keep on learning beyond the pages of its covers. Guerrero brings to the table systemic issues that cannot be eradicated by a single story, but she suggests that maybe through constant inquiry, searching, and an attempt to do better we can break free of the demons of our past.

Slated for release by One World Press on July 17, 2018, you can preorder a copy of Crux: A Cross-Border at your local bookstore.

Read more nonfiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.