So everyone has been talking about Hillbilly Elegy by J,D, Vance, and I wasn't paying enough attention to it to know why. Then a couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend played some of his audiobook in the car while we ran errands. I still wasn't sure what it was about, but it only took a few minutes of listening for me to get hooked. The author reads the book himself, and his voice and his story are compelling.
So what is Hillbilly Elegy, exactly? It's a memoir of growing up among the hillbillies of Kentucky and Ohio. It's a coming of age story of a man who found his way out of poverty through the Marines, education, hard work, and strong role models. It's a sociological treatise on a group of Americans whose devout family loyalty and work ethic fight with their economic struggles and feelings of alienation. It's a look at the economic disparities in American life and the impact they have. It's a guide to creating a better life for yourself and your kids. It's a sweet and charming love story from one man to the grandmother who loved him enough to elevate him to a new life.
Is it possible for one book to do so much, and to do it all really well? It is. This is why everyone is talking about Hillbilly Elegy. And J.D. Vance does it, somehow, without being too political. He is political, don't get me wrong, but he never completely takes a side. He sees how the Democrats are trying to help shift the economic and societal imbalances, and he sees how they're failing. He offers no big answers, just tells what worked for him and gives credit where it's due, first and foremost to his grandmother, Mamaw.
Despite growing up with intermittent father figures and a mother struggling with addiction, J.D.'s Mamaw made sure that he and his older sister always felt cared for, always had a safe place, and always knew that they were loved. Some of her lessons came with an exclamation point, but they landed. And despite J.D.'s struggles through school, he finally found his way through to graduation, to the Marines, to Ohio State, and then to Yale Law School. He found his way out of poverty, and then he took a long, hard look at how that happened. His story is honest and unflinching, charming and inspiring. And it's especially meaningful when you listen to him tell the story in his own words.
Hillbilly Elegy is a must listen. It's a fantastic story and an important look at what is happening in America today. Read. This. Book.