Archive for February 2020

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance


Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance is a book that has been on my radar for several years now. Going into it, I knew nothing about it beyond the fact that many fellow book bloggers have said, "You have to read it!" What I found was a book about growing up, overcoming the odds, and understanding others so that you can empathize with their situation. At a time when we seem more divided than ever, I think that is the main reason why Hillbilly Elegy has resonated with readers of such diverse backgrounds.

The history of J.D. Vance's family is pretty familiar to that of most other American families of the time. His grandparents moved from their small Appalachian town in Kentucky to pursue the American Dream in Ohio. They hoped to find a better life than the one their parents had, and, on the surface, they did. J.D.'s grandfather was able to find a manufacturing job that propelled the family to the middle-class status of their dreams. A good job, car, house, and tight family should equal a great life, but the Vance's were having a tough time escaping the social norms of their previous life.

J.D. candidly tells of the addiction, abuse, a trauma that surrounded the majority of his upbringing. Despite all of their financial success, the Vance's always felt "other" compared to their neighbors. J.D.'s mother was essentially absent from his life. She struggled with addiction and a revolving door of men who only added to the strain between her and her son. Thankfully J.D.'s grandmother (mawmaw) provided a more stable, albeit unconventional, hand. She pushed J.D. to overcome the constraints of his family history to excel in school and try to truly make something out of his life.

J.D. went on to serve in the Marines, graduate with a law degree from Yale, and even serve in the political arena. Not bad for a kid from the hills. At times, I recognized pieces of my own blue-collar upbringing. Other times, I was shocked by some of the things that were considered "normal" for the Vance family. As I said at the outset, I think Hillbilly Elegy succeeds as shining a light on a section of the US population that often goes unnoticed. Vance does his best to avoid getting overtly political, but he also doesn't shy away from relating the values and cultural views of the people he grew up with to the rise of hard-right politicians. While I don't agree with everything Vance writes about in this book, I do think that his story is one that is well worth reading.

For more information visit Amazon and Goodreads.
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