Hillbilly Elegy IMG_45214/5 stars, Memoir, The Not-So-Nice of Upward Mobility

Hillbilly Elegy details the childhood life of J.D Vance and his journey from a poor, violent, and unstable household to graduating from Yale as a lawyer.


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We get a lot of stories about the struggle of many groups to success, but one I have ever see before is the rise of a ‘hillbilly’ from poor home life to success.

It was interesting to experience Hillbilly Elegy and listen to other people (and the author, seeing as I attended a talk he had about the book) discuss this book. Vance, a republican, said sometimes people would come up to him and say something about understanding the struggle, or what do we do in this current political climate and Vance has to remind them he is not the same party as them.

Then, there are other’s who say the book made them realize why people could vote for someone like Trump.

The beliefs people had about Vance’s personal thoughts is dramatic and crosses so many areas, it is astounding. Personally, when I was reading the book, I didn’t see much of politics at all. I didn’t know what his party was and was trying to identify what party he was. Sometimes I thought her was liberal and other times conservative.

I do not think this is a good book to ‘understand the conservative voter,’ but I do think this book adds something vital to the discussion of upward mobility.

In the talk I attended, Vance mentioned something that, as a fledgling adult, was quite frightening. He said that in the 1940’s, 90% of kids would be more well off than their parents. In the 1980’s (or maybe it was the 1990’s), this percentage was 40%.

Well, that is pretty daunting, especially imagining that this percentage is probably even lower today than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

And then I remember that I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my life yet, except be a creative writer and that isn’t exactly the most lucrative career.

I can certainly survive on much less than what my parents have, but the worry is there that they will be disappointed if my level of ‘success’ (in terms of money) does not surpass them. Then there is another fear that maybe I wont be satisfied with my life if it does not match or exceed what I grew up with.

Anyways, back to Hillbilly Elegy. There were some funny moments, others that I couldn’t even imagine. There were mentions of murder, so much violence, and a home life I cannot even imagine.

When Vance became successful, he looked at those around him at Yale Law school. He asked the question: “Why is there no one here like me?” He looked at studies, found that there was a ton of research about people like him, from poor, broken households, who had much lower success rates than those who come from better backgrounds. He decided what he could add to the field was a story about himself and the struggles he took to reach the place he is now.

Vance mentioned how, when he had a relationship, he didn’t know how to do it right. In his house, there was always screaming and things being thrown, so he struggled emotionally in that regard. He felt his options were either yell, or not say anything, so he wouldn’t say anything, which doesn’t solve any issues with the wife.

He also discussed that at Yale, many of the well off kids seemed to know how to get things that helped them be successful in life. Back at his home town, he remembered that they were never encouraged to go to college, there were no mentioned of completing college applications or how to fill them out. These sorts of situations set those students back and prevent many of them from being as successful as students from different worlds.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting, thought provoking read that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

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