By J.D. Vance
Harper Paperbacks, 9780062300553, (Paperback) May 2018, 288pp.
The Short of It:
An important read, even if you think you won’t be able to relate to it.
The Rest of It:
Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis–that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck. – Indiebound
I had been avoiding this book when it was selected by my book club. Truthfully, I wasn’t interested in it because I knew it would hit too close to home, and it did. I didn’t grow up in the same region as Vance but I could identify with nearly everything Vance encountered growing up: addiction, abuse, poverty, and having what seemed like no other options for living.
But I could also identify with a need to belong, a need to succeed and the well-meaning intentions of some of the folks around me. Vance tells his story with brutal honestly but his story is peppered with hope throughout, which makes this memoir a very interesting read about the long-term effects of class decline on future generations and it begs the question, how can we fix it?
The full impact of this memoir didn’t hit me until the last third of the book. That is when Vance gets to the point. The never-ending cycle of poverty for some, make it impossible for them to rise above it. How could they without the realization that there is more out there? If the norm is poverty and abuse, and it’s all they see, what motivation exists to change their situation for the better?
I know some people will argue with that logic. That people have a choice and they choose to be poor but for many, they grew up that way. They were never shown or given the opportunity to live differently. Vance suggests that the people who manage to pull themselves out of this cycle are the ones who were introduced to something different. I agree. It’s the number one reason why I work with teens and the homeless. I had people in my life that showed me a different way and that made all the difference. I want to be that person to someone else.
Hillbilly Elegy is a powerful read and if you don’t want to read it or think you can’t relate to it in some way, try, because it’s important to know how other people live. For our society to flourish we need role models to show us a better way because no matter where you stand politically, brokenness is evident all around us if you look.
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