Jeanie Cummins’ novel, “American Dirt” has caught the attention of many, but not for the right reasons. Her story about a Mexican bookseller fleeing to the United States with her son has caused a lot of controversy. Critics say the book uses stereotypes, and it has been rejected by Mexican and Mexican-American readers – the audience for whom the story was intended.
But others have praised the novel, including Oprah Winfrey, who says the book shows “what it means to be a migrant on the run for freedom.” She announced the book would be an Oprah’s Book Club selection. As part of a new initiative to include local libraries in her book club, Winfrey selected several in the Southwest to receive boxes of the book, in hopes they would promote it. The McAllen Public Library in South Texas was one of them.
Kate Horan, director of the McAllen Public Library, says she was excited to be chosen by Oprah’s Book Club, but wasn’t told what novel Winfrey’s team would be sending. She was also instructed to videotape an unboxing ceremony. When she opened the box, Horan knew there was going to be a problem.
“I already know too many negative things about it and already don’t feel that this would be something I can get behind,” Horan says. “They picked us, McAllen, for a reason. We’re on the border. I had to make a decision. Do I go with this or do I not?”
Horan has read “American Dirt” and says it is a “Hollywoodized version” of a migrant’s experience. She says the book banks on a story about “brown people suffering,” which is why she declined to participate with Oprah’s Book Club in promoting the novel, out of respect for the people in her community – people she says she “represents.”
“Based on the responses I’ve gotten, which have been very positive, I think people have respect for the library and the decisions I’ve made along with my staff,” says Horan. “This was the right thing for us to do.”
Despite opting out of promoting “American Dirt,” Horan says the library will make several copies available for checkout.
Written by Samantha Carrizal.