Book review: American Dirt

Book cover for American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The best book recommendations come from those who are closest to you. They are the ones who know you best. Since my two oldest daughters have started reading regularly, one of the side benefits has been getting book recommendations from them. For example, last summer Amanda recommended Recursion by Blake Crouch, which I really liked. Then, later in the year, Courtney recommended Lexicon by Max Barry, which I thoroughly enjoyed. As it turned out both books had been on my reading list, but their recommendations pushed them to the top.

So when both of them recommended American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, a book that wasn’t previously on my radar, I didn’t just add it to my reading list. I put it at the top. I figured it deserved priority treatment since they both suggested I read it.

Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

I generally read science fiction books, primarily those that are thrillers set in the near future. So American Dirt is not a book that I would normally read. It’s a story about a middle class Mexican business owner who is forced to flee the country with her son when her family becomes the target of a drug cartel. While fictional in nature, the story is compelling and believable, which is a testament to the research work Cummins performed writing the book. It parallels the plight of many from Mexico and Central America who are fleeing their homeland in search of a better life for their family. Many are doing so in fear of their life, often times due to circumstances that are not within their control.

For me, it was an eye-opening book. Born a US citizen, I’ve had very little exposure, if any, to the immigration system outside of filling out the occasional I-9 form. Most of what I know about the immigration has been fed to me by the US media. American Dirt is a more realistic, feet-on-the-street look at the issues and challenges that exist in the US immigration system. It highlights how the system impacts and takes advantage of those who need assistance yet aids those who exploit the system for their personal gain.

In my opinion, American Dirt highlights the reasons why the current system is in dire need of reform. The immigration laws that may have worked 40, 50, or 100 years ago need to be updated and revised to reflect immigration conditions as they are today, not how they used to be.

Unfortunately, the media pits the two extremes against one another. On the one side are those who want to open our borders and legalize all immigrants who are already in the country, whether they are here by legal means or not. On the other side are those who want to deport all immigrants, even some who are here legally, and close our borders. While the arguments make for good headlines and television ratings, the media are the only ones who benefit while the rest suffer. In reality, there is a vast middle ground where compromise could be found if the two sides were willing to let go of their egos, discuss the issues sensibly, and explore alternative because neither of the extreme positions makes any sense.

Anyway, my political views aside, American Dirt is an excellent book, a must read. Cummins wastes no time dropping you in to the action, the pacing of the story is great, and the characters are relatable. She does a great job making you feel as though your are a part of the story – a member of the group trying to make its way across the border. The book will pull you under fast and does not let you up for air. I finished it in just over a week, which is a quick read for me.

So in addition to my daughters, I highly recommend the book, regardless of your views on immigration. Like me, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

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