There has been a great deal of buzz around J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy since its release in 2016, there's even a movie in development based on the book that will be directed by Ron Howard. I've had it on my radar for some time now, trying to get my hands on a copy, which proved hard due to it always being sold out around here. I finally found a copy in an indie Vermont bookstore recently, and read it fairly quickly.
Having grown up in/surrounded by the "hillbilly" culture, I found myself relating this book more than others of the same nature, often nodding my head at certain antidotes, stories, and descriptions. Hillbilly Elegy and Sarah Smarsh's Heartland are two books often compared to each other, as they seem to be two sides of the same coin, covering a similar culture but in different approaches and conclusions. I found Elegy the more relatable of the two myself.
While Heartland seems to lay blame on the government for the family's troubles, including teen pregnancies and such, Elegy distributes the blame fairly among its rightful owners. In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance acknowledges that a great deal of his family's (and the culture as a whole's) hardships were brought on or made worse by their own poor choices. While Vance does point out that there are ways the Government could do more to help, as well as social-economics having a role in the issues, he expertly gets down to the root of the issue through his own personal experience and antidotes.
Ultimately, the buck doesn't stop at the government or public education, instead you should trace it to the choices and failures on the people themselves. Can you really blame the government for your drug problems? Or your unplanned pregnancies? The answer is absolutely not. While the author isn't so bold as to suggest that he has a solid solution to a whole culture's hardships and struggles, he does suggest that it needs to start with better choices made by the people themselves.
Hillbilly Elegy is a well written, well informed memoir and a must read. I'd highly recommend it!
I give it an 8/10.
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....