This memoir from JD Vance is an eye-opening, articulate depiction of the “hillbilly” culture of the Appalachian region. As Vance shares with the reader about his upbringing – bouncing between Kentucky and Ohio – he opens our hearts to the plight of the poor, often uneducated, white population in this region. As we learn about his experience with his traumatized and drug-addicted mom and his angry, foul-mouthed, sometimes violent, but unendingly loving and devoted grandparents, we see how entrenched the culture is and how difficult it is to dream in this world. Fortunately, for him, he was able to find love and support enough to find his way to success – but his journey was complicated and chaotic and he never forgot from where he came.
The honesty and self-reflection with which this story is told brings the reader right into the author’s life. We are right there with him when his mother takes him on a death-defying car ride. We are right there when his older sister cares for him as a devoted mother would. The love and appreciation that he feels for his grandparents who were his constants in a very tumultuous childhood is palpable. And we can understand when he reflects on how to improve the lot of his fellow hillbilly peers and come up short. The poverty, the distrust, and the violence that pervades this culture are so entrenched that it feels impossible to overcome.
I think this is an important book for people who are not from the South to read. It really provides an understanding of a whole sub-culture of people that comprise part of the fabric of our United States.
A very, very worthwhile read!