Whew! American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is not for the faint of heart. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like for migrants coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico…look no further. Immigrants do the work Americans find too low paying, demeaning or difficult, but what you don’t know is that washing dishes, cooking, landscaping and all those other labor intensive jobs are a cakewalk compared to what they went through to get here.
American Dirt is the story of Lydia and her brilliant 8 year old son, Luca. They must get out of South and Central America for reasons I won’t ruin for you. Know that you will care about these characters, and that what they experience is the reality for many. Their travels will keep you on the edge of your seat, because survival against the elements, cartels, and border patrol is unlikely.
This story is really a testament to saying goodbye, grief, and to new horizons. What I liked most was the insight Cummins gives to each character, how they process their emotions and trauma through impossible situations.
I’d heard rumblings about people and critics disliking American Dirt… none of which I read. Given the political climate, any book about crossing the border into the United States would be controversial. I highly recommend you give this a chance regardless of what anyone says. Go into it knowing nothing, and out of it rewarded with the knowledge that those who seek to be near us have good reason to.
Oh dear. If you’re new here, you know I rarely unleash one of my handy “just stop” memes for my book reviews. And that when I do it, it’s for good reason. I’m saddened to report a “wtf book” so early in the year, but here we are. That said, I don’t think many will agree with me when it comes to The Maid by freshman author Nita Prose. The book has already been picked up for a movie adaptation and is high on the NYT Bestsellers List. I can see why people will enjoy this, but I didn’t. It has all the makings of ~the unputdownable~: first person narrative, overcoming the struggles as the underdog, murder, romance, suspense. And still, this fell flatter than a pancake. If you read further, here’s the obligatory 🔥 SPOILER ALERT 🔥.
The story follows Molly the Maid (yep), a character I can only describe as a female mashup of Sheldon Cooper and Forrest Gump, who happily works at a four-star hotel. She is dedicated to bringing rooms back to a “state of perfection”. One day she finds one of the hotel’s prolific and famous guests dead. From there, she unwittingly uncovers a series of dark happenings, all while trying to survive on a measly salary following the death of her grandmother.
What bothered me was the inconsistency with Molly. She was naive and uneducated when it worked for the story, then deceptive, capable, and cunning in the next instant which made her innocence about the most basic of things ridiculous. Molly is a complicated character, which would have been fine had there been any consistency whatsoever. Yes, she was sheltered, had what I can only guess would be considered Asperger’s, and was raised through her grandmother’s endless usage of proverbs and empty platitudes (which you will have to read over and over). But that still doesn’t explain her actions, which led me to believe the author did it to try to create the element of surprise for the reader. And by creating that element of surprise, you lose the believability of your titular character. The other, more disturbing, issue is that if you are going to write a story about a person with autism, be careful to do it justice. Make it clear that wrongdoing, lying, or turning a blind eye to unforgivable harms is a moral compass issue, one that has nothing to do with the disorder the character may have. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating confusion and suspicion about an already misunderstood diagnosis millions of people live with.
Don’t waste your time or money on this maid service. Let this one collect dust.