Title: American Dirt
Author: Jeanine Cummins
Performer: Yareli Arizmendi
Length: 16 hr, 43 min
Publishing Date/Publisher: 2020 by MacMillan Audio
Review: This was a book club pick that interested me mainly because of the controversy surrounding it. When a bestselling book gets a lot of criticism, it makes me curious, even if it falls into a genre I do not typically read.
I went into reading this book with an open mind, because I like to form my own opinions. I personally found the content of the book to be very stressful, so at this point in my life it was not my favorite read. It did, however, make me more conscious of the seemingly insurmountable challenges that migrants face as they make their trek to the United States.
After reading the book for myself, and browsing through the reviews of critics, I personally find most of the controversy to be unwarranted. I won’t address every aspect of her work that has been criticized, but it seems that the primary criticism stems from Cummins being elevated as a White author over authors of color who have written about similar topics. I understand the argument, but the truth is, it is a very well-written book. Regardless of her own experiences, it felt like a very well-researched work of fiction and after discussing it with both my book club and a Latina friend who read it with her book club, it seems that Cummins portrayal of hardship, corruption, and abuse is true to the experiences of many migrants. Perhaps she tried to pack too much drama into one story, but I do believe that the journey to the border can be very dangerous, especially for young women. I’m not saying that #ownvoices works should not also be elevated, but as one person in my book club pointed out, the popularity of this book could have been used as a platform to recommend readers to books on similar topics written by people of color. As with any novel, it is not perfect and some criticisms are likely valid (particularly about the use of Spanish language throughout the story), but I think it is great that a book that inspires empathy and raises awareness about the challenges faced by illegal immigrants is reaching such a wide audience. To say that someone cannot write characters or settings of another ethnicity or culture would essentially be saying that most works of fiction should never have been written. I think it is great that the new publishing trend is embracing #ownvoice stories and authors, but it is absurd to say that someone cannot write fictional works about something they have not personally experienced or to hate on them for doing so. I hope this does not discourage Cummins from writing more in the future.