Joe Bliven

American Dirt
By Jeanine Cummins


October 13th, 2020

American Dirt was an extremely thrilling and well written page turner. Jeanine Cummins did a wonderful job of making me care about all of the characters she wanted me to care about, dislike all of the characters she wanted me to, and feel conflicted about all of the characters she wanted me to be conflicted about. The characters (especially the secondary characters) are for the most part one dimensional which works perfectly fine for this kind of story. The characters are still very engaging and their lack of depth allows Cummins to introduce new characters and situations without taking too much time away from simply moving the story along. Throughout the book Cummins peppers in great observations and beautiful bits of prose that really push this novel and its author into the upper echelon of modern best sellers for me. My one complaint was admittedly not with the author, it was with a review that was featured on the front and back cover of the book. The review hailed American Dirt as, among other things "The Grapes of Wrath of our times." and "realistic". I can understand the comparisons with the Grapes of Wrath in that it follows refugees on their uncertain journey to a better life while meeting countless other people on very similar journeys. In it's execution however I don't think it focuses quite as much on social commentary or an examination of people's humanity pushed to its limits or the countless other themes that make Grapes of Wrath great. Really American Dirt only uses this scenario as more of a backdrop for an exciting story. I will also say that while this book is certainly not realistic it is clearly very well researched. This book may very well be an important work in how well it empathizes with the modern North American refugee but beyond that it certainly isn't anything other than a very well done blockbuster novel a la John Grisham or Tom Clancy. Every occurrence in the plot of this book happens because it is the most interesting, exciting, or desirable thing that could happen. There is clearly an author inside of this story guiding it along the rails on a journey we want to continue reading to the end. There's nothing wrong with this type of book, they can be very enjoyable -as this one is- but don't read this book thinking it's some great commentary on refugees in North America. That being said I do see this book as a great way to humanize refugees to students and could see this being very valuable assigned reading in coming years.