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The first few pages of American Dirt, the new novel by Jeanine Cummins about a Mexican woman and her 8-year-old son who flee a drug kingpin for the southern U.S. border, begin with a jolt of adrenaline. The son, Luca, is standing over a toilet when bullets fly into the bathroom. He barely has time to register what's happening — gunmen are murdering his family at a party — before his mother, Lydia, hurls them both into a shower stall to hide. It's a gripping scene laid out with urgent prose.
It's no wonder why Oprah Winfrey, who selected it this week for her book club, said she couldn't put the novel down after those first pages. The story follows Lydia, a middle-class bookstore owner who unwittingly befriends the kingpin who ultimately kills her family, as she tries to escape Mexico with Luca by her side. Critics say the book's depiction of Lydia's experience reads like a "cheap-thrill narconovela" and feels like "the work of an outsider." Read more...More about Oprah, Social Good, Books, and Identities