“I want people to know what it feels like to nearly give up on yourself and why you might do it. I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children.” – Hillbilly Elegy
My tastes in reading typically range from classics to all genres of romance, definitely not memoirs. I picked up this book after a friend suggested it when she heard a special on National Public Radio (NPR). I promise she’s only in her 30s, everyone…and she is a hardcore NPR fan. Trust that I give her a hard time about it when I can. Knowing what an unapologetic backwoods girl I am, and how much love I have for rural areas and people – Mississippi in particular – when she heard the author talking about his book, she recommended it to me. A lot of connections have been made lately to the Trump campaign and the rallying of poor whites for his cause, but I ask that you instead focus on the issues that the author presents.
J.D. Vance is the second generation of kids from a hillbilly family that hailed from the Appalachian region of Kentucky. His family moved from the backwoods to the Rust Belt area in Ohio looking for better opportunities for themselves and their progeny. He joined the Marines after high school, and managed to graduate Ohio State University after leaving the Corps. This small success alone should set him apart from the offspring of so many poor white families, but after attending a state university he managed to get accepted and graduate from Yale Law School. One might suspect witchcraft, surely, but I think it all boils down to determination, a support network (no matter how insane), and belief in oneself.
Vance’s story is like many of ours; he hails from a poor white family and had his own share of family trauma and drama. Abuse, neglect, addiction, and absence of parental units were all part of his life. This is not a story all about negatives, as the author also speaks about the loyalty code and dedication amongst those known as hillbillies, rednecks, and white trash. I feel that these are some of the things that make us such zealous military members and devoted friends. His family was very tight knit, and as a result of that his mamaw and papaw played a large role in his life. Among other deep topics, Vance also touches on a perception that we have “too many young men immune to hard work,” a concern felt by several groups.
This book inspired many feelings in me, and yes, some of them resulted in tears. I felt a shared connection with the author and his youth, and deep concern for people living in the lowest income brackets. My own pistol-packing mamaws are gone, and what is left of their generation is not long for this world. Who among those left will police us and handle our crisis? I worry about where the people who hail from my rural Mississippi home will end up, and what kind of opportunities their children will have when the dust settles. I have worked hard in the military and on my own education, and I am comfortable saying that I can find a good job when my service ends. I consider myself very lucky to have had the chance, willpower, and support needed to succeed as much as I have. My husband and I do what we can to give our children the best opportunities for success, but I know that so many out there have nothing left to sacrifice and have gone completely bankrupt on hope.
I would recommend this read to anyone sensitive to sociological and economic struggle, especially those who are connected to this group of Americans.
“Never be like this f*#king losers who think the deck is stacked against them,” my grandma often told me. “You can do anything you want to.” – Hillbilly Elegy
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