Two of 2020’s hottest novels are also the most controversial

If you’re someone who enjoys books but doesn’t spend a lot of time on Twitter, you might have missed out on the two scandals sweeping the publishing industry this week. Here’s a quick breakdown:

The book:American Dirtby Jeanine Cummins (Flatiron books)

The synopsis: A mother and son are on the run through Mexico after a drug cartel kills their entire family.

The scandal: The author is not Mexican, leading to claims that she has appropriated a story that isn’t hers to tell and that her portrayal of Mexico as a dangerous place only plays into stereotypes. Also, Cummins reportedly received a 7-figure advance to write the book. The scandal isn’t likely to affect sales: Oprah made it a coveted Book Club pick, bestselling authors Stephen King and Don Winslow have been champions of it, and there’s a movie in the works.

The book:My Dark Vanessa” by Kate Elizabeth Russell (William Morrow)

The synopsis: A high-school teacher is accused of sexual abuse by a former student. It isn’t the first time this has happened; 17 years prior, 15-year-old Vanessa Wye had an affair with him.

The scandal: A writer named Wendy C. Ortiz wrote a memoir called “Excavation” that was published by a small press in 2014. The memoir is about Ortiz’s teenage relationship with her private-school teacher, now a registered sex offender. The content of Ortiz’s memoir is similar to that of “My Dark Vanessa” and Ortiz says author Russell reached out to her to tell her she had read the book and liked it. Again, when you drill down to it, this is about who gets the big bucks and who doesn’t. “In an industry that is continually taken to task for being extremely white and making decisions that reflect as much, here is a 7 figure book deal for a fiction book that is being marketed eerily similarly to my book, and has made many of my readers ask, ‘Why does that sound familiar?’ ” tweeted Ortiz.

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