Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

hillbilly-elegyBook Title: Hillbilly Elegy
Author: J.D. Vance
Genre: Memoir
Date Read: November 5, 2016
Rating: 5/5

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.

I’ve struggled to write a review for Hillbilly Elegy for quite a while now. A month later and I’m struggling to find the right words to describe such a poignant book.

Hillbilly Elegy touched me because I, too, live in Ohio and live in an area where a lot of Kentuckians have migrated in search of jobs only to find themselves struggling financially. I see this every day and I’ve often found myself blaming them for not getting out of their situation or even the authorities looking into their situations.

Vance has given me an inside view of what life is like as the working class poor. It made me sad for what he has gone through, mad that a system didn’t protect him and others like him. But it also gave me hope. He had a supportive grandmother and sister who helped him survive schooling and get to where he is today. If we can become more supportive towards the working class as well as in our schools, then maybe they can succeed more.

I don’t know what the answer is, but this book made me think, and it came at a time when we all need to think about the working class.

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