I missed the boat with “American Dirt,” possibly for the narrow-minded reason that I thought I knew all I need to know about the plight of Mexican refugees striving to pierce the U.S. border. I’m glad I finally succumbed to passionate word of mouth, for from the opening sentence, I was held captivated by Jeanine Cummins‘s uncanny brilliance and propulsive storytelling. The plot is both simple and endlessly complex: when an Acapulco bookshop owner is forever to flee, taking with her an eight-year-old son, she ends up joining the thousands and thousands of Mexicans and other South Americans wending their ways toward the border and then placing their lives in peril to attempt a border crossing. The author creates magic with an earnest but true-hearted style that never falters. Both the mother and the son are memorable characters, but there are many other splendid characterisations. The sense of place is exquisite. An ode to the capacity of human beings to hope and strive, as well as a searing indictment of this unfeeling world of ours, American Dirt is a readymade classic.