Hillbilly Elegy

Author: J.D. Vance
Publisher: Harper

Goodreads Summary: From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

My Thoughts: There is nothing special about Vance in terms of his abilities or intelligence, which made me love this book so much more. It's not about a wunderkind who makes it out but rather an average boy who happened to have a grandmother to love him & some luck along the way with opportunities he took advantage of. He grew up middle-class but unstable with a mother who was a nurse but plagued with men & drug issues. Bouncing around from boyfriend's home to boyfriend's home Vance certainly did not have the childhood or background to support him through school or towards a better life.

The book is strong as memoir, with Mamaw being the most vibrant character in Vance's life. The book is also strong as an examination of Appalachia and the poor white voters who live there. It's fascinating for someone who is not directly familiar with this area to really understand & delve into the lives of the people. The stories of unemployment, drug abuse, reliance on welfare- none of this is surprising. But Vance is writing about people he relates to & it's very clearly as someone with empathy, not as an outsider reporting from the sidelines. It's personal & that's what makes it so moving.

Where the book falters a bit are the moments where Vance tries to overreach & use his personal stories as a sweeping point about yes, Trump's America. There are parallels & information in this book to be sure but when Vance tries to make those points they do seem forced. I do see a lot of value in taking one person's stories to understand issues in a larger context but they don't always work in this book.
 Did I walk away from the book saying aha! This is why people voted for Trump! No. And to say that one memoir would suddenly make you understand the reasoning behind 62,984, 925 votes is simply a way to get the book sold. What Vance does do is shed some light on a portion of the population who are usually either ignored or presented as an uneducated caricature. He brings their stories & life to us readers who are fairly ignorant of what it means to be poor & white in Appalachia.

I learned a lot. Maybe not what the publicists claim I would but this certainly is a book for everyone to pick up & read.




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