This is the second time I’ve read American Dirt and I’d like to amend my first review. My book club leader said that sometimes you have to be “in the right place” to read a book; I take this to mean mentally, physically, and in the right season of life. The first time I read American Dirt, I wasn’t in the right place for one reason or another. This time, I was, so I feel like this review is the more honest of the two I’ve written about this book.
To begin, the biggest difference is that I actually read this book this time, instead of just skimming it. And it’s wordy. For that reason, I don’t think I’ll reread it anytime soon, but I am glad I gave it another chance right now. I have more time and am in a more reflective place in my life, so I connected with Lydia this time. I was ready to read about her struggles and her goal to get the U.S.
For those not familiar with the plot, this book revolves around Lydia and her son Luca. Sadly, Lydia lost her husband and 15 other members of her family in Mexico due to cartel violence. Knowing they were coming after her and her son next, Lydia made the hard decision to take Luca to el norte, or America, and she consciously made the decision to come illegally. The book then chronicles her hard, perilous journey from Acapulco to the American border.
The first time I read it, I found it hard to connect to Lydia for some reason and I didn’t particularly care if she made it to the U.S. This time when I read it, I did connect and found myself rooting for her and Luca. The violence and corruption the author details in Mexico was unbelievable to me as an American! To see a murder first-hand like Lydia did but to not have the option to go to the police or call 911 for help, to not be able to take public transportation north because there are physical roadblocks manned by the cartels, to be constantly on your guard against any new person you meet because they could be on the cartel’s payroll; all of these basic safeguards I take for granted in my own life are not present in Lydia’s. It really opened my eyes to how differently people in Mexico are forced to live.
Finally, reading about the lengths that a person will go through to ensure safety for themselves and their loved ones opened my eyes to real-life struggles that immigrants face today. And it humanized illegal immigration for me in a way that news articles do not. Overall, I found that I did enjoy the book this time, and I understand now why it’s become such a huge talking point. Yes, it’s controversial and a work of fiction, but there is also a truth to it that people like myself (living in my happy, safe bubble) need to be confronted with.