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Library Notes: Look to memoirs for accurate representation

Jeanine Cummins’ book “American Dirt” has quickly incited controversy. More than 100 authors have asked Oprah to rescind it from her book club, and a public library director has refused to promote the book (although it’s still available for checkout).

Read contemporary Chicana author Myriam Gurba’s scathing criticism of the book, hilariously titled, “Pendeja, You Ain’t John Steinbeck,” for more details.

What’s the problem with the book? Its plot suffers from telenovela melodrama, and its characters represent the racist tropes, Gurba argues, of someone who doesn’t know the first thing about Mexico.

Furthermore, the author stands to make millions from a book about border issues that other authors have written about far better — and actually lived.

That said, here’s a few other options for readers who want more authentic stories about migration, the border or culture written by Latina authors. (As you’ll see, I’m partial to memoirs!)

“The Distance Between Us” by Reyna Grande: This memoir tells the story of a childhood spent torn between two parents and countries, as the narrator’s parents make the dangerous trek across the border.

“The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea: A work of fiction about the De La Cruzes, living as Mexicans in America, dealing with the impending loss of a father, and the messiness of family ties.

“Children of the Land” by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo: A memoir about a child crossing the border, temporary blindness, blending and living under a system that treats him and his family like criminals.

Finally, check out the aforementioned Myriam Gurba’s memoir “Mean,” part experimental ghost story, part sexual assault testimony and full of snarky humor, I often read passages of this book aloud to friends.

If you’re committed to coughing through “American Dirt,” consider other options alongside it. Border stories need to be heard from the other side.

Erik Caswell is the adult services librarian at Mystic and Noank Library.


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