Over the summer, I picked up a good-sized stack of books from a free book fair. Many were books that had been on my TBR for quite some time. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance was one of those books.
I really did not know what to expect from Hillbilly Elegy. It is the story of a culture I did not grow up in, and thus will never fully understand. But the people of the Rust Belt and Appalachia make up a good number of the people in America. They are the poor and uneducated. The unrefined and working-class. They are the hillbillies. They are white, working-class Americans living in the hills of Appalachia. J.D. Vance was raised as one of them. Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of Vance’s journey from poverty to success and his reflection on why so many who grew up like him do not make it to where he is (and why he did).
Hillbilly Elegy is anything but a light, airy memoir. It is the story of adversity, deep poverty, alcoholism, abuse, and absent parents. Raised by his grandparents, Vance recounts the hardships he and his sister faced whenever they were under the care of their addicted mother. Vance recounts how he and his sister were able to live primarily with their Mamaw (grandma) while still remaining in the custody of their mom. He tells of how his Mamaw always pushed him to do more and to rise above his circumstances. Because of her, Vance grew up to join the Marines, serve in Iraq, and later graduate from Yale law school.
Hillbilly Elegy is not just the classic “rags to riches” story. It is a reflection on an entire large unknown social class in America. It describes the decline of the working-class culture, as the children of each generation find themselves in worse and worse situations. Vance speculates on why he was able to break free from the cycle, and what, if any, changes could be possible.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance gets 5/5 stars.