Lydia Perez's life is not extraordinary; she is a bookstore owner with a husband and eight-year-old son, Luca, in Acapulco. When cartel jefe Javier Fuentes has her entire extended family killed while Lydia and Luca are fortuitously hiding in a bathroom, Lydia realizes they must leave Mexico immediately or be killed when Javier finds out she is still alive. Luca, confused but trusting in his mother, embarks with her on an odyssey to the north, joining other migrants trying to make it to the U.S. border. What they see along the way will bring readers both heartbreak and hope, pain and promise. While Cummins alternates points of view, Luca's voice in particular sings with innocent optimism in the face of a series of near misses. The journey towards the prospect of safety is not only that of Luca and Lydia but of many other migrants, and complex secondary characters serve as both warnings and signs of possibility. Beautiful, straightforward language drives home the point that migration to safer places is not a political issue but a human one. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: With a story line sure to be much discussed this election year plus a film in the works American Dirt may be the don't-miss book of 2020.--Tracy Babiasz (Reviewed 11/01/2019)
With this devastating yet hopeful work, Cummins (The Crooked Branch) breathes life into the statistics of the thousands fleeing their homelands and seeking to cross the southern border of the United States. By mere chance, Lydia Quixano Pérez and her eight-year-old son, Luca, survive the massacre of the rest of her family at her niece's quinceañera by sicarios of the Los Jardineros cartel in Acapulco. Compounding the horror of the violence and loss is the fact that the cartel's leader is a man that Lydia unwittingly befriended in her bookstore. Lydia and Luca flee north to the only refuge that she can imagine: her uncle's family in Denver. North of Mexico City, all other sources of transportation become impossible, so mother and son must risk traveling atop La Bestia, the freight trains that are the only way to reach the border without being seen. They befriend two beautiful sisters--Soledad, 15, who is "a living miracle of splendor," and Rebeca, 14--who have fled life-threatening circumstances in Honduras. As the quartet travel, they face terror on a constant basis, with danger possible from any encounter, but also compassion and occasionally even wonder. This extraordinary novel about unbreakable determination will move the reader to the core. (Jan.)
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.]--Barbara Hoffert.
This terrifying and tender novel is a blunt answer to the question of why immigrants from Latin America cross the U.S. border and a testimony to the courage it takes to do it. Cummins (The Crooked Branch, 2013, etc.) opens this propulsive novel with a massacre. In a pleasant Acapulco neighborhood, gunmen slaughter 16 people at a family barbecue, from a grandmother to the girl whose quinceaera they are celebrating. The only survivors are Lydia, a young mother, and her 8-year-old son, Luca. She knows they must escape, fast and far. Lydia's husband, Sebastin, is among the dead; he was a fearless journalist whose coverage of the local cartel, Los Jardineros, is the reason los sicarios were sent, as the sign fastened to his dead chest makes clear. Lydia knows there is more to it, that her friendship with a courtly older man who has become her favorite customer at the small bookstore she runs is a secret key, and that she and her son are marked for death. Cummins does a splendid job of capturing Lydia's and Luca's numb shock and then panic in the aftermath of the shootings, then their indomitable will to survive and reach el norteany place they might go in Mexico is cartel territory, and any stranger might be an assassin. She vividly recounts their harrowing travels for more than 1,000 miles by bus, atop a lethally dangerous freight train, and finally on foot across the implacable Sonoran Desert. Peril and brutality follow them, but they also encounter unexpected generosity and heroism. Lydia and Luca are utterly believable characters, and their breathtaking journey moves with the velocity and power of one of those freight trains. Intensely suspenseful and deeply humane, this novel makes migrants seeking to cross the southern U.S. border indelibly individual. (Kirkus Reviews, Oct. 14, 2019)