Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By: J.D. Vance
First off, I loved this book. It was a breathe of fresh air for anyone seeking an emphatic approach to understanding the crisis working class white America is facing. This story is an autobiography of J.D. Vance himself. Born white and poor in the hills of Eastern Kentucky and raised most of his life in Middletown Ohio, Vance is about as stereo-typically Murican as they come. Unfortunately, his upbringing filled with strife and hardship is also becoming more stereotypical.
His childhood was filled with a constantly rotating barrage of father figures, crazy but loving hillbilly grandparents, and a drug-addict mother. He only escaped foster care because he lied to social workers about the time his mother threaten to kill him when he was 11 years old. He was abandoned by both his biological father at 5 and his adoptive father a few years later. He wouldn’t even carry his family name until he married and changed his name to Vance, his grandparents name. His grandparents, far from perfect individuals who once trashed a toy store because the store clerk dare tell their child to put a toy down, were the only relatively stable role models he had to look up too.
Despite all odds, Vance overcame the statistics and made it to Yale law school. By all measures, he is living the American dream. Yet, he speaks about the demons of his childhood that still haunt him. He identifies more with Kentucky laborers than he does the typical Yale graduate. To hear him tell the tale about how he denied being a Yale student to a fellow Kentuckian at the gas station, simply because he felt traitor for attending this prestigious liberal University, speaks volumes.
A Republican, raised by a Democratic grandparents who only voted Republican (Reagan) once in their lives, Vance criticizes both sides of the political spectrum. He criticizes liberal politicians who try and solve problems without any understanding of who their policies are meant to help. As well as Republicans voters who constantly cast blame at someone else for their problems, going so far as to create conspiracy theories to avoid truth.
He mentions briefly his faith. While all his relatives and peers claimed Christianity, his father is what some would call a holy-roller. His fathers church emphasized persecution of what they believed to be evil, mainly gays and liberals. The theology had very little to do with how one should act and behave, this led to an outright rejection of the faith in his adolescence. It wasn’t until his late twenties that he began to find religion, albeit slowly, again. A story that resembles my own.
I strongly believe this book is for everyone. The information and stories within have certainly opened my eyes to problems otherwise hidden behind the walls of the house next door.