Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Rating: 4/5 stars
Page Count: 257
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Date Reviewed: January 31, 2018
Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir following the journey of J.D. Vance, a man born to a poor family in the Rust Belt of Ohio that originally hailed from Kentucky’s Appalachia region, and the path that led him to eventually graduate from Yale Law School. This book has been receiving a lot of buzz recently, both good and bad, so it definitely piqued my interest. I also love the idea of reading a non-celebrity memoir for a change written from a unique background.
Hillbilly Elegy was an interesting read that provided a peek into rural white America and Appalachian culture. Like the title suggests, this book is a memoir, so Vance delves mostly into his own life and experiences and only writes about how his experience is common or unique to his community through anecdote. This book has, however, received lots of criticism from readers from the Appalachian community as being un-representative. But Vance is writing a memoir, not a non-fiction cultural survey, so I think it is reasonable that his experience of certain events may not ring true for all. Vance even concedes this when he explains that often times he confuses the order of events of his childhood in his mind.
Vance’s story was clear and kept me interested. I appreciated his introspection, even if I was uneasy by how he seemed to so wholeheartedly endorsed violence with pride. I thought it was a bit strange that Vance idealized his grandparent’s home of Jackson, Kentucky even though he was born in Ohio around families with similar backgrounds, but this was likely the influence of his unstable home life and connection to his grandma.
Vance has had an interesting life (or at least the first 30 years of it) with a clear upward trajectory in terms of status and prestige. I gave this book four stars partly because of how he described his experience with law school in such detail. I did not grow up poor at all but many of the experiences he related of trying to fit into a culture designed for the elite resonated with me as a woman of color. I have spent almost my entire adulthood trying to be “fancy” enough for the career I have chosen and the place I find myself in life. To know that even straight white males can feel so “other” made me check my own biases.
I am not saying that growing up a poor white male is the same as growing up as a woman of color of immigrant parents, but it does make me ponder that at some level we all share some fundamental struggle of finding our place in a world that was not designed with us in mind. I would just hope that in Vance’s further introspection, he will stop to consider what his life would have been like if he hadn’t had the privilege of the color of his skin. And if Vance ends up running for office like reports are saying, I hope he can use his new power to be part of the solution.
Overall a great read offering a glimpse into a new perspective! What did you all think? Are you ready to write your own memoir and see it on the bestsellers list?