Review: Hillbilly Elegy

Hey guys!

Sorry it’s been a while since my last post, got a bit busy with doing social media for my library. I’ll work on it, I promise.

Anyways, just finished “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance today for one of our book clubs at work. It is such a good read. I don’t know that I would have picked it up if I didn’t have to read it for book club because I don’t normally read nonfiction but I am so glad I did. It’s so relevant to what’s going on today and gives us a really insightful look into this culture that we know exists but maybe just forget about.

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J.D. Vance describes growing up as a hillbilly, living in the Appalachian region in Kentucky as well as in a poor town in Ohio. Even though Vance’s grandparents moved to Ohio to escape the poverty they experienced in Kentucky, Vance reveals that many in his family, his grandparents, his mother, his sister and aunt and uncle struggled to escape their vices and keep up with their new middle-class life. Vance has a strained relationship with his mother as she brought numerous men into his and his sister’s lives and was in and out of rehab. A lot of the times, his sister and grandmother or “Mamaw” were more like a mother to him than she was.

Though he struggled in school, his grandparents knew he had a better life waiting for him and never let him give up. His grandfather, “Papaw,” helped him with his math and Mamaw was such a tough old-bird that there was no way she’d let him fail. After an incident with his mother after his freshman year of high school, he decided to live with his grandmother for the remainder of his high school years and that could not have been a better decision. He got his grades up and graduated on time but while he would have been able to go to college, he realized that he wasn’t ready for the college life just yet and so he went into the Marines.

Not that I had a negative view of our armed forces but I didn’t realize just how much they do for our men and women and I really enjoyed reading this particular chapter where he discussed how the Marines, apart from his training, helped him grow up and become an adult. He didn’t know the first thing about balancing a checkbook or how to buy a car and he was able to learn basic adult things like that from the Marines.

College was a bit of culture shock for him and while he overexerted himself sometimes, he went on to graduate summa cum laude from Ohio State University and got a degree from Yale Law School.  While at a dinner, trying to impress some prospective law firms, he spat out sparkling water because he didn’t know what it was and had to call his girlfriend because he didn’t know which forks to use and in what order, it just wasn’t something he’d learned. Don’t worry, he did well for himself and works for a firm in Silicon Valley, living with his wife and two dogs.

*Note: in book club today, someone said he is returning Ohio and starting a nonprofit but I haven’t had a chance to find an article yet.*

I did not mean to make this a long post but I just want to say that if you are considering reading it or have to read it for a book club, do it. While I found it to be a sort of call-to-arms for the white working class Americans to realize that hard work pays off and the choices they make matter and can have real consequences, I think some (ok a lot) of the statements he makes can be applied to all of us. The world isn’t set against you and even though you might be stuck between a rock and a hard place and some people are luckier than others, it’s possible to do better for yourself. Don’t stop trying and don’t undervalue yourself. If you’ve read it or get a chance to read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Reading,

Jade

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