In the fall of 1969, Sportcoat, an older deacon of a church in the housing projects of Brooklyn, shoots a young drug dealer in front of the entire neighborhood. The motivation seems obvious, but enter these pages to discover that obvious is rarely just so, and the ghosts of hope, disappointment, and struggle are ever present. Every character from the pastor's wife to the Italian mobster is infused with such depth and complexity that stereotypes are washed away in the cool water of these pages. McBride brilliantly gives us joy without diminishing the difficulties of poverty and racism, and humor so warm and loving you will be sad to leave this community.
Historical mystery fans are probably wondering how I have missed this for so long! England in 1537 is divided between those who support King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, his feared vicar general, and those faithful to the Catholic Church. Matthew Shardlake, esq. is tasked by Cromwell with finding out who murdered a royal commissioner at a monastery, but his quest leads him to question is faith in the men he serves and the very system which separates the poor and wealthy by so very much. The struggles of a good man to find the path of what is good and right in a world so corrupt that it is akin to a path through marshes on a rainy night resonates powerfully today. Historical mystery lovers rejoice!
Cummins gives flesh and countenance to the myriad of stories standing at the border seeking refuge from all manner of violence, hunger, and desperation. They are people - Lydia, Luca, Rebeca, Soledad, Beto, El Chacal, Choncho, Ricardin, Slim - whose stories are so beautifully crafted that we walk away understanding what forces a person to leave all that is known for whispers of both the nightmares and dreams of the unknown. After Lydia and her eight-year-old son Luca's entire extended family has been murdered in a cartel hit, Lydia knows their only hope of survival is to head north as inconspicuously as possible. Kindness, selflessness, compassion, cruelty, viciousness, and vengefulness meet them at every turn, but knowing who harbors which motivation makes this a compelling thriller. Pit the cartel's cruelty and might against the fierce love of a mother, and you have a book that will destroy and repair hope so often you will wonder how you survived the reading. It’s difficult to imagine how those who travel these roads survive the actual journey.
UPDATE 1/27/20: American Dirt has gathered much attention. Though Flatiron, the book’s publisher, positioned it to be a bestseller, the Chicanx literary community quickly and vehemently rejected it, calling it a reductive, offensive representation of Mexico and its people. But when I first read it, I thought it was a book that could help change the conversation about refugees, about people this country has treated horribly for so long and now treat with complete disregard of their humanity. I hoped it would make people rise up. Rereading it now will be interesting in light of the recent controversy and ensuing conversation. I don’t know who Jeanine Cummins is or what she intended with this book; it makes no difference. She gave birth to it, her publisher (the gatekeepers in this process) planted it on the public stage, and the commentary has inflated its notoriety. We booksellers can influence the effect this book has, the conversations that come out of it, so let’s do our jobs now. Make certain American Dirt leads new readers to books by Latinx and Chicanx writers - place #ownvoices books next to it in your displays and promotions.
This book, however, should bring no profit to a system that, if unchecked, will continue to create works just like it. So 20% of all American Dirt sales at Cellar Door Bookstore will go to The Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). I hope Flatiron will follow suit.
Take the powder keg of race relations from the 90s through now, settle it into the distinct geography and humanity of LA, and infuse it into two families affected by the fear and anger that's impossible to avoid, and you have Your House Will Pay. Grace works hard at her family's pharmacy and doesn't understand why her sister is estranged, but when violence strikes, long buried secrets are revealed and Grace must try to piece together who she really is. Shawn's family, broken by his sister's murder and the murderer's lack of punishment, have each dealt with the tragedy in their own ways, but when they are again drawn into the country's racial fault lines, the epicenter shifts, and Shawn is forced to reexamine his choices. Brilliant and as tense as the relationships it explores, this book should be read and discussed by any who want to understand the human tragedies of our volatile race relations.
Cinco Puntos Press often publishes gems of literature from traditionally underrepresented authors, and this incredible mystery is definitely one of them! Woven into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a rash of young white women in this northern Minnesota area is the story of Cash Blackbear, a 19-year-old Ojibwa college student who has survived years of foster care but with scars that make trust elusive and her survival instincts constantly on high. When a young man who claims to be her brother comes to visit, and dreams of blonde girls begging for help occur repeatedly, Cash tries to find out what is going on. If you like a mystery with cultural insight and characters with great depth, you'll love this!