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American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Contemporary fiction

American Dirt

Oprah's Book Club

We're proud to feature Oprah's Book Club pick.

by Jeanine Cummins

Excellent choice

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Quick take

This month, we're partnering with Oprah to offer her most recent Book Club pick to our members.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Sad

    Sad

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_GraphicViolence

    Graphic violence

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Serious

    Serious

Synopsis

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. One day, a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy?two of them are her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of a drug cartel that has taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee to beyond Javier's reach, Lydia and her eight-year-old son Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. As they join the countless people trying to reach the United States, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

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Content warning

Recently, there has been controversy and discussion on social media and in the press regarding this book, the way it has been marketed, its characterizations of Mexican immigrants, its author’s identity, and issues of cultural appropriation. Because of this, we wanted to share with you our thoughts about why it is one of our selections this month.

Our thinking around this book – both as a work of literature and as a political call to action – has evolved as the conversation around it has unfolded. When we first read the book, we thought it was an eye-opening and emotional depiction of one of the most important issues of our time. But in recent weeks, the perspectives that have been voiced have led us to engage more deeply with its limitations – especially given our current political climate.

Some of our members have expressed disappointment that we selected this book and have told us that we missed the mark by featuring it. Over the past week, our team has debated whether or not we should pull American Dirt from our site. While thoughtful people have raised important and valid criticisms of this book, we think it is more productive to encourage conversations around these issues than to sweep them under the rug. Ultimately, we believe that it is more honest to let you decide for yourself whether or not you would like to read this book than make that decision for you.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of American Dirt.
American Dirt

Chapter One

One of the very first bullets comes in through the open window above the toilet where Luca is standing. He doesn’t immediately understand that it’s a bullet at all, and it’s only luck that it doesn’t strike him between the eyes. Luca hardly registers the mild noise it makes as it flies past and lodges into the tiled wall behind him. But the wash of bullets that follows is loud, booming, and thudding, clack-clacking with helicopter speed. There is a raft of screams, too, but that noise is short-­lived, soon exterminated by the gunfire. Before Luca can zip his pants, lower the lid, climb up to look out, before he has time to verify the source of that terrible clamor, the bathroom door swings open and Mami is there.

Mijo, ven,” she says, so quietly that Luca doesn’t hear her.

Her hands are not gentle; she propels him toward the shower. He trips on the raised tile step and falls forward onto his hands. Mami lands on top of him and his teeth pierce his lip in the tumble. He tastes blood. One dark droplet makes a tiny circle of red against the bright green shower tile. Mami shoves Luca into the corner. There’s no door on this shower, no curtain. It’s only a corner of his abuela’s bathroom, with a third tiled wall built to suggest a stall. This wall is around five and a half feet high and three feet long—just large enough, with some luck, to shield Luca and his mother from sight. Luca’s back is wedged, his small shoulders touching both walls. His knees are drawn up to his chin, and Mami is clinched around him like a tortoise’s shell. The door of the bathroom remains open, which worries Luca, though he can’t see it beyond the shield of his mother’s body, behind the half barricade of his abuela’s shower wall. He’d like to wriggle out and tip that door lightly with his finger. He’d like to swing it shut. He doesn’t know that his mother left it open on purpose. That a closed door only invites closer scrutiny.

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Member ratings (11,234)

  • Lydia T.

    Knoxville, TN

    This is one of those books everyone needs to read. It is far too often we do not think about the reason for migration, just that many want a better life. This is an important read. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Kelley M.

    King, NC

    “Loved” isn’t quite the right word due to the heartwrenching subject matter. But it is a powerfully written story, humanizing immigrants and refugees. Aren’t books meant to illuminate new perspectives

  • Amanda M.

    Waynesboro, PA

    Not an easy read by any means, but it’s important. It’s very tense from the first page & it doesn’t let up for the remainder of the book. Dark & heavy, and disturbing at times, but I’d still recommend

  • Nancy R.

    Menomonee Falls, WI

    I have read the controversies around this book, but I loved it. I fully realize that it is a fictionalized account of migration, but I respect the research and personal experiences of the author! ????????????

  • Holly H.

    Ashland, OH

    This book isn’t pleasant and yet it’s a book so many people need to read to see things from another perspective. It’s gritty, ugly and violent, but it’s also a story of determination, love, and hope.

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