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  • Gregory Zeigler

American Dirt: A Must Read.

American Dirt: A Must Read for all North Americans who Read.

“I want to convince people that their way of thinking is out of date and use words as a means to change minds.” The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis.

Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.” ― Barry Lopez.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is exhilarating, terrifying, heartbreaking, and exhausting. Everyone residing on North American soil should read it. Because first and foremost, American Dirt is an eye-opening education. It schooled me and changed me. I will never view the same way again a person who is migrating in search of a better life.

The novel opens with crushing tension that rarely lets up as the owner of a bookstore tries to make it to el norte (the U.S.) with her son, her only surviving relative, after an attack on her family by a cartel.

We here at Free Range Writers ask that our posts address one, two, or all the following: the environment, mystery, and the writing craft. So how, you may ask, does reviewing American Dirt meet those criteria? What is the migrant issue on this continent if not a humanitarian and environmental crisis of the greatest magnitude?

We here at FRW pride ourselves, you might even say, are even a little smug about the fact that our stories (mysteries and thrillers) not only entertain, but also educate. In general, if I may speak for all three of us, our novels are allegorical. Cummins’s extremely well-crafted novel is the gold standard in accomplishing the dual goals of educating while entertaining. Although I feel a little guilty using that rather light term (entertaining) to describe the fictional depiction of such a traumatic journey, the reader cannot look away. American Dirt is riveting.

If I have one criticism it is that, except for a brief stay in a seemingly typical Mexican village including central fountain and Mariachi Band (a moment when the reader exhales), the ever-present pressure, tension and danger of the odyssey is unrelenting to a fault. I found myself thinking, “Well, this is way worse than I ever imagined and I’m certain these heroic people go through Hell, but can it really be this bad?” But then, what do I know? Perhaps it can and is.

I’ve observed that any artist today likely to be dunned for cultural appropriation (and Cummins endured withering criticism which probably drove her sales through the roof) has to a) apologize for her privilege and b) refer to a notable person of the culture in question who has endorsed her work. That happens in the author’s note.

It is my personal belief that the author should have written this book because a) she can, which is no small feat and b) she was inspired to write it. Cummins should be judged solely for her craft and by her audience.

This audience member was blown away.

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