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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Northwest Passages lineup for 2020 … so far

After a bang-up end to 2019, with a fall slate that included Timothy Egan, Tom Mueller, Rene Denfeld and Ben Goldfarb, the Northwest Passages Book Club has taken a well-deserved rest.

The rest time is over. The Spokesman-Review’s book club and community forum will ramp up toward a full spring beginning this month. Included is an event featuring one of the most-anticipated books of 2020.

“American Dirt,” by Jeanine Cummins, tells the story of an Acapulco bookshop owner and her son who flee a drug cartel and begin a desperate migration to the United States and the sanctuary of a cousin’s home in Colorado. “American Dirt” has made several lists of most-anticipated books of 2020. It was released Jan. 21 amid reviews both positive and not so nice.

The book has plenty of champions, including novelist Joe Hill and his dad, Stephen King, who tweeted out their praise of it this year. NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan praised “American Dirt,” saying, “Of all the ‘What if?’ novels I’ve read in recent years — many of them dystopian — ‘American Dirt’ is the novel that, for me, nails what it’s like to live in this age of anxiety, where it feels like anything can happen, at any moment.”

Nicholas Mancusi, writing for Time magazine, said, “Some of the faintest praise that could be bestowed on a novel is to call it ‘topical,’ but while this book reflects the current real-world crisis at many of the world’s borders, the story is masterfully composed of timeless elements: the nightmare logic of grief, the value of human kindness, the power of love to drive us to do the unimaginable.”

But others have argued the book is a work of cultural appropriation because Cummins is not Mexican. Indeed, even though her grandmother is Puerto Rican, Cummins herself admits that she may not have been the best person to tell this story. In the afterward of “Amercian Dirt,” Cummins, whose grandmother is Puerto Rican, writes, “dkfdskjsdkj.”

Others simply don’t like it. “The real failures of the book, however,” writes Parul Sehgal in the New York Times, “have little to do with the writer’s identity and everything to do with her abilities as a novelist,” taking her to task for her “thin characters” and writing that is “lumpy and strange.”