by JD Vance
From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck. The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.
While there are many things to like about "Hillbilly Elegy", I think my favorite is just how inspiring I found the story, and that it could be for others as well. The moral of "Hillbilly Elegy" really makes a strong case for the importance and value of decisions and positive choices. Reading about the authors young adulthood, it would have been easy for him to look at his surroundings in Kentucky, his family and community there, and then decide that that was what he would become as well. But of course, that isn't at all what JD did. Against the odds, he made mostly positive choices in his life, at times scary and risky choices, all of which led to his success today. But "Hillbilly Elegy" was inspiring to me not just for what JD accomplished ( which is immensely impressive) but also for the numerous influential people who took time to help him along the way. The author gives credit where it is due- noting that without his "memaw", "papaw", and many other supportive individuals, his life would not have been anything like what it is today. I love that this book made me want to go out and help others, and spread around the good fortune.
Interesting interviews and statistics
I wasn't sure what to expect before beginning "Hillbilly Elegy", but I certainly anticipated more politics than I found! I'd guessed that more of the book would be statistics and anecdotes about the impoverished areas in Kentucky and Ohio. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when most of the book was not that ( which can be a bit tough for me to get through) but was instead JD's life and his family's story. But even better was that to my surprise, the parts of the book that were interview and statistic based were really excellent. Each element really enhanced the other - for example, the statistics regarding childhood trauma gave even more weight and perspective to JD's story, and JD's interviews with teachers at his high school showed a different and important side of the struggle JD experienced. It all just worked so well together and felt very cohesive!
Lately, I've been listening to memoirs instead of reading them- and I *love* it. I listened to "Hillbilly Elegy" through Audible. And if you enjoy audiobooks, this is a really great one to listen to. The book is read by the author, which is my favorite way to listen to memoirs- I mean, it kind of seems necessary to me to read your own memoir, how weird would it be to have a voice actor reading a book you wrote about your life, but to each his own! The voice of the author just adds so much to the story for me and I end up enjoying listening to them possibly more than I would have reading. JD's voice in particular was very soothing but also intriguing enough to keep me listening.
Things I Struggled With
Not much! There was a short moment about a quarter of the way into the book where the author delved into the migration of workers from Ohio to Kentucky that felt a little long winded to me. Had I been reading the book it would've been easy enough to just skim over it, but because I was listening I felt a little trapped.
Have you read or listened to Hillbilly Elegy? Let me know what you thought of the book below! Thinking about reading this book? Click here to find a copy at your local library or click below to view the book on Amazon.