Book Review

Patty Pick for 1/11/18 is “Hillbilly Elegy” by JD Vance

I had read a lot about this book on different forums and it was high on my to-read list. At our annual Book Club dinner in December we do a book exchange, and after much finagling I was able to “steal” away with this book! Yeah! Of course, one of the first things I had to do was look up the word, elegy. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “elegy” is defined as “a sad poem or song, a poem or song that expresses sorrow for someone who is dead.” Not to assume what JD Vance, meant by his title, but he definitely seems to be singing the blues where his hillbilly heritage is concerned. The sad fact that some of them make it out of the poverty-stricken Kentucky area that where they grew up, but they continue to struggle to find their way. The system and society are not set up to help them in many ways. People are not looking for handouts – someone to do it for them, but they are looking for a hand to make the transition plain to them, a pathway to make the hard work they put into this life a little better for the next generation. 

What I thought I would be reading was his childhood and how he made it out of poverty to become a successful something in life – author? He did become a successful Harvard-educated lawyer. What I did not expect is the harsh realities of his childhood and the struggle of his family to maintain and take advantage of the opportunities they worked hard to obtain. What I did not expect was to read some of the very same examples that I have in my own family to some degree. What I did not expect was to relate to the reality of the effects of your family life has on future generations. What I did get was a wonderful dose of Southern family life in the rawest possible form. I did read harsh situations that he and his family found themselves in, many after “making” it out of one of the poorest areas in the South. What I did find was some of my own family’s stories woven into his book. If you are from the South, you will get this easily.

The South is a unique place in this world and I would not trade being born and growing up here for anything in this world. I thought my family was always middle-class until I went to high school and then saw some of my friend’s homes and how they lived. I did not know all the society niceties that I wished I had been taught, and my family sometimes struggled. I did watch my sister turn from a smart, kind person into someone who lost her way. Was it in her genes? I don’t know, but I do know that we are all influenced by our family – our wonderful, loving, dysfunctional family. And we all have one – that took  years for me to figure out. We all have the crazy uncle who throws snakes out of the yard  and across the road to rid the yard of the huge creature. We also have memories to cherish, like those warm, bright Sunday afternoons at our grandma’s house, making homemade ice cream with the aunts, uncles and cousins.  

I loved my childhood. I had two of the most wonderful parents ever to walk on this earth. Sure we could have used more money and I wanted more “things” at some years in my steps on adulthood, but I was loved and well taken care of. JD Vance had to fend for himself and deal with a no-nonsense, gun-toting grandma and a drug addict mother, but he made it. He also had some wonderful people around him, his sister for one. They became a tight team that just kept each other together when they needed to.

Success is what you decide it is and sometimes it is hard to comes to term with your own family. But you only get one and you better cherish those moments while you have them. Maybe JD didn’t have a lot of money but the story of his life to this point is inspiring and sad at the same time. There are people out there who still struggle to find their way. It took me years to have any self-confidence and all most 40 years to start writing again. Be proud of yourself and embrace the kooky and calm members of your family – you only get one family. They can all teach you something  and they are all irreplaceable in this world.

Don’t walk to the bookstore or your on-line portal, RUN for this book. A big, huge READ!!

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