Time for another book review! I’ve inadvertently found myself on a string of non-fiction books ever since I finished Winter Garden. Not that I mind! I finally got to Outliers, a Malcolm Gladwell book I’ve had on my To-Be-Read (TBR) list ever since I read Blink (twice). Then came Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a memoir I’ve wanted to read ever since I read The Aviator’s Wife last year. I highly recommend both!
Hillbilly Elegy is yet another memoir, this time by a man somewhere around a decade older than I am – so, a much younger perspective than the typical memoir that I’ve read. I was intrigued when my mom’s book club chose the book, even more so when all 50 (!) copies of the book were checked out at our local library with 5 people per copy on the waitlist.
With demand like that, I couldn’t resist. I bought the e-book (my first purchased book of the year) and got reading!
J.D. Vance is a Yale Law School graduate with a successful career and stable home life, but his childhood tells a vastly different story. He grew up spending time between Middletown, Ohio and Jackson, Kentucky, both small, rural, Rust Belt towns. He is a self-professed “hillbilly,” and the majority of his book is spent unpacking the way “hillbilly culture” influenced him and those around him.
His story is what we think of when we say “The American Dream.” He came from an impoverished community and a family riddled with substance abuse with a revolving door of father figures. Throughout the book, J.D. shares statistics and studies of what usually happens to kids like him: teenage pregnancies, drug addiction, high school dropouts, and so on. J.D. is an oddity in that he not only graduated high school, but went on to serve in the Marines, graduate from Ohio State University (in less than two years), and then graduate from an Ivy League law school.
What is most striking about his book is the reality of what he’s saying and the nearness of the places he’s talking about. J.D. isn’t talking about a town a hundred years ago or a thousand miles away. He is talking about towns I’ve driven through and my generation. Many of the issues J.D. confronts are ongoing issues today, and if anything, they are only becoming more important.
He does a great job of explaining his background and portraying it candidly. Some of the truths are dark and gritty, but his writing style lends itself so well that I never felt too “bogged down” by the subject matter. I think this book has caught fire lately because it is so relevant to what’s happening today politically and culturally. Working class America is making itself known, and this book serves as a testimony about communities that aren’t so far away from my own.
This book, if nothing else, has given me insight into others’ lives, starkly different from my own, which is invaluable and has reminded me to lead a service-minded life. Anytime a book can help me walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, I consider it a book worth reading. Hillbilly Elegy highlights a culture many are unaware of and even more can not begin to understand, and I look forward to the discussions that are sure to be sparked by its rising popularity.
Rating: 3/5 stars
Stats: 273 pages
Recommended for: Mature audiences (due to language) and anyone interested in a true story of the American Dream – and the true story of those who remain marginalized and left behind.
Up Next: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave