FICTION

American Dirt

Flatiron: Macmillan. Jan. 2020. 400p. ISBN 9781250209764. $27.99; . f ;.
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In a book both timely and prodigiously readable, Cummins (The Crooked Branch) offers an unrelenting and terrifyingly you-are-there account of a Mexican mother and son fleeing to America after cartel violence takes their entire family. Lydia had been comfortably running a bookstore in Acapulco, but cartel violence is escalating, and the charming customer with whom she’s become friendly turns out to be the jefe of the newest, cruelest cartel in town. When he’s also the subject of her journalist husband’s latest reveal-all profile, vengeance is swift, which puts Lydia and Luca on the run by bus and van, in migrant shelters, on top of a train, and, finally, in the remote and blazing American Southwest. Cummins expertly balances the brutality of the cartel, its scary omniscience, and Lydia’s ululating fear with Lydia’s passionate commitment to Luca’s survival and the numerous small, brave acts of kindness she encounters that speed this duo north.
VERDICT Here, it’s the journey rather than the arrival on American dirt that counts, and readers will wonder whether they could ever have survived such a trek even as they realize that this could happen to them. An important book. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/19.]

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