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

hillbilly-elegy_J.D. Vance grew up in Middletown, Ohio and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. Looking at just the outline of the author’s personal story:  His grandparents, “dirt poor and in love,” move to Middletown in order to escape the poverty of Appalachia and make a better life and while there raise a middle class family and eventually, J. D., their grandchild, graduates from Yale Law School, you would think this is story about achieving the American dream.  But the outline does not tell the deeper, more complex story of the despair and poverty that threatened this family and continues to threaten white working class America.

Although the family lived in Ohio, away from the poverty of Appalachia and were able to maintain, at least outwardly, a middle class life, the pull of their families left back in Kentucky and the fact that many of the other workers at the factory were also from Kentucky made it easy to remain strongly tied to what J.D. describes as “hillbilly” culture. Resolving conflicts with screaming, and even physical force, never letting anyone outside the family know your problems and fighting out of a sense of family honor were just some of the things that J.D. learned growing up and according to him were a legacy of that culture.

J.D.’s mother who married very young and then divorced her husband for abuse, seemed especially scarred by her father’s alcoholism and the fighting that went on between her parents, J. D.’s grandparents. Unable to keep a job as a nurse because of her addictions to opioids and eventually heroin, J.D. eventually left his mother’s house and moved into live with his grandmother. Finally, away from the constant drama of his mother’s life and with his grandmother’s ferocious love he was able to to graduate from high school and began to take the necessary steps to change his life.

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and profoundly moving analysis of the slow disintegration of the white working class through one family’s story. Although this disintegration has been noticed with growing concern, J.D. gives us an inside look as it is happening. Searingly honest, and profoundly moving this memoir opens a window into the current political landscape and allows us to have more understanding into the despair and anger that seems to motivate some people’s choice in this election. I found it extremely helpful, allowing me to have more empathy and understanding at a time when I think that is more necessary than ever before!

Brenda’s Rating: *****(5 out of 5 Stars) 

Recommend this book to: Everyone!

Book Study Worthy? YES!!!

Read in ebook format.



This entry was posted in History, memoir, Non Fiction and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

  1. Nancy Lawrence says:

    Richard and I just finished reading this book recently, and we too found it riveting and moving and so helpful in teasing out the threads of hillbilly culture from the larger fabric of “southerners” or of “poor whites” …highlighting distinctives of that Appalachian poor-white culture.
    I, too, saw in a different light those who are staunch Trump supporters because he speaks to their inner fears and their marginalized culture, AND that it validates their feelings of hopelessness (as in, there are no jobs out there for me, so I’m not gonna go searching, or it’s not my fault, I’m the victim and there’s nothing I can do to better my situation except blame someone/something else.) Such a timely story for moving us past our easy judgments based on our lack of awareness of why “those people” are the way they are.
    Nancy L.

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