Monday, March 13, 2017

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

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Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of a family that is effected by the generational poverty that effects the people of the Appalachian mountains and also one writer's thoughts on the causes of the culture of struggle that this group of people seems to perpetually find themselves in.  While the Vance family moves from Kentucky to Ohio to escape the hardship that is so common there, they can't seem to shake off the culture of being "hillbillies".  The family is plagued by the substance abuse and family strife that is common in Appalachian people but J.D. grows up in a home that has something that other hillbilly children do not.  That is the love and commitment of his hard-working and fiercely loyal grandparents and the devotion to education of his mother.  These advantages have enabled Vance to strive beyond that of his neighbors- to serve in the Marine Corps and to attend Yale Law School.

This memoir can be sad at times but it can also be hopeful, as well.  There is also an amazing amount of truth and insight about Appalachian culture that I believe parallels other cultures, as well.  I am not a "hillbilly".  I descend from Louisiana Creoles and live in North Carolina.  Like the author, I am often frustrated by the lack of educational and economic options in my hometown but believe there is somewhat of a cultural crisis that is effecting the socioeconomic status of many of my neighbors.  I, too, have seen many people gripe that they are not receiving enough in food stamps and then turn around to sell that very same lifeline.  Jobs are few and far between but many have given up trying to find one, at all.  I think that, as a society, we must admit that part of the blame of poverty rests with the family and culture in which the person is a part of.  Governments can spend as much money as they want on education and teachers can be the best at what they do but if education is not a priority in the family and community, the efforts of the teachers and government often times will fail.  The efforts of just one person can change all of that for a child, though.  If they provide love, encouragement and a soft spot to fall, children can find the courage to reach higher. Mamaw and Papaw gave this leg-up to J.D. and, hopefully, other parental figures will do the same for the children that they care for.  I really enjoyed this book and I think that it will resonate with a larger group of people than just the "hillbillies" it describes.  I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading memoirs or coming-of-age stories. 

Reviews of books like this one:
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Disaster Falls by Stephane Gerson
One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

This book is currently available and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Read more reviews on this book on Goodreads.

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