Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Published June 28, 2016

The lowdown from Goodreads

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.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history. 

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.

At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.

If you enjoy non-fiction at all, then definitely pick this up. I was drawn to it because I grew up in a single wide trailer & I’ve known & loved a few hillbillies. Raised in the South, I heard rumblings of J.D.’s life that my family can relate to & I know WAY too many people who need to read his story.

J.D. touches on the political aspects of the working poor, the social programs that are put in place to help them & the theory of learned helplessness. I loved his quote, “No person’s childhood gives him or her a perpetual moral get out of jail free card.”  The author describes neighbors & family members who continuously blame his or her current conditions on childhood challenges. Do you know anyone who does this? I sure do.

This book is really a tribute to J.D.’s Mamaw & her unrelenting fight to give him a good life, despite all the struggles present. This story includes the hillbilly code of not talking to the police, even if someone takes a saw to you. He describes the despair of a father who tried to save his daughter from her own detrimental choices & the shock of a child whose mother tried to kill him in a passionate rage. The reader learns how small choices, kind words & loving encouragement & grit propelled J.D. to Yale Law School & beyond.

This book received a second wave of buzz after the most recent Presidential election, but putting that aside, it’s just a well written novel about a kid who had life stacked against him from the start & he still achieved a functional, fulfilling life. How could you not enjoy a book that has this quote? “Not everyone can rely on the saving graces of a crazy hillbilly.”

Author’s Site     Buy this Book


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