J.D. Vance’s 2016 novel, Hillbilly Elegy, is an interesting memoir that gives insight into “hillbilly culture” and his communities’ struggles with achieving the popularized American Dream. Vance was born in the Appalachia into a struggling, white working class family. His father abandoned him when he was young and his drug-addicted mother wasn’t much of a parent herself. With a childhood full of abuse, poverty, alcoholism, and addiction, his future didn’t look too bright. That changed when his beloved Mamaw and Papaw stepped up and helped raise him and his older sister when his own parents failed him. Despite his obstacles, and with the support of his grandparents, Vance was able to escape the confines of his failing community. He became the first kid in his family to attend college and later furthered his success with graduating from Yale law school. Throughout the book, Vance describes his trouble with achieving social mobility, and changing his lifestyle while highlighting issues in his community that contribute to their “broken economic landscape”. Vance provides an honest take into the white working class’ problems with achieving financial success and his journey towards the American Dream.
Vance chooses a honest, yet sometimes humorous writing style in his book. This appealed to me because while Vance ultimately aimed to educate the audience about issues within his community, his use of humor and incorporation of personal stories made the book very interesting. His unique storytelling and brutal honesty made for a heartbreaking and hilarious read. Due to the mature content in his book, this book is more suitable towards the age 15 and above. Vance’s look at his hillbilly culture is important and this book should be necessary for everyone to read so they get a good insight into the forgotten part of America and how to help fix their community in crisis. I rate this book a 5/5 because it beautifully wraps a vital message inside a man’s story about struggling to be successful in America.
Book Review by Mary Spangler