Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By: JD Vance (Author/Narrator)
Publisher: HarperAudio
ISBN13: 9780062477521
Unabridged 6 hr and 49 min
Genre: Autobiography/Memoir


From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.

At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.

(New) Thoughts

As someone who spent her childhood raised in the Appalachian region, I approached Hillbilly Elegy as a personal read. The majority of my life was spent living between Ohio and Kentucky before finally relocating across the states to Oregon. I knew that I would find some possibly comforting and perhaps discomforting familiarity within the pages of this memoir. However, what you are about to read is brief and a bit defensive I am admitting, because that is how this title made me feel for the majority of my time with it.

I want to be forthcoming before I delve too far into my experience with this book. I have reshelved this title several times for a variety of reasons. I have read countless reviews and debates comparing this memoir to the very reason Trump succeeded in the presidential election and have encountered multiple labels and “assumptions” spread throughout those comments in regards to individuals from the Appalachian region that paint a picture of an uneducated and decaying society that has little to offer. And while, I cannot deny there are faults within every community and that the economic hardships within this society have certainly created a series of challenges that feel stagnating at the best of times, reading these remarks are difficult to swallow when you know the reality of what lies beneath the surface.

I have also must admit that I found myself associating with and struggling with JD’s story. While my family did not exactly adhere to the same ideals and practices, I was a friend to many who did. I grew up in an area that was small and everyone knew everyone. This was life for many years. A declining economy and failing welfare system certainly attributed to fewer resources in terms of education, declining work ethic/morale and increased drug abuse in many areas. I think the same can be said for any  area or society as this is a common theme when individuals begin to struggle. But it is not the only theme. Amidst the turmoil and challenges there are those who arise with a fierce loyalty and desire to overcome. Much as JD has done. I did enjoy his narration and felt that it added a nice personal touch. All memoirs should be self narrated when possible. And I feel that some personal truth for the author was exposed, which is always admirable.

My problem lies within the fact that Hillbilly Elegy feels too blanketed. Listening to JD describe his history of family violence and the constant references to the lack of education and failure to thrive was not only depressing but somewhat unfair. I cannot deny the truths in this book as I have witnessed them first hand, but I have also been fortunate enough to personally witness the other side of the coin and found myself unable to fully appreciate the “tunnel vision” I experienced during my time listening the his tale. I will not attempt to discredit and disagree with the information provided and will respect the author’s raw approach to this. I encountered some of the mentioned directly throughout my own childhood. But I was saddened with the end result and that read a bit like misplaced blame and solicited unnecessary labels and assumptions within the reading community. I am very aware of the stigma associated with this region as I have experienced it and continue to do so at time when asked where I grew up. This felt like a missed opportunity to lift the veil and clear some of the negative air. It feels that too often literature chooses to focus on the stereotypes and downfalls of this culture while failing to acknowledge the strengths and positives. I choose to believe there have to be better explorations and representations of the Appalachian region in existence.

Untitled designEnjoyed with a cup of Earl Grey and a splash of milk.


Purchase Links:  Amazon.com Book Depository

Connect With Me: FacebookTwitterTumblr and Instagram

28 thoughts on “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

    1. Thank you ❤ And I do respect and understand these are his own experiences and am aware of the truth in them. However, I felt too much of the "culture" was left unexplored. It felt one sided. I really struggled to review this. So the feedback means a lot to me – xx

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Ahh, wonderful review, Danielle. I can see how this memoir failed in delivering what it could’ve easily done without focusing on the failures and putting blame on these folks. Honestly, the stereotypes and all the stigma/negativity attached to them is really strong and even in my whole life (yeh.. not that long.. but still), it remains the main picture that is drawn and thought of when speaking of the people in the Appalachian region. Loved the review and how you politely raise the memoirs “problems”. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ❤ This was a hard one for me. I almost chose to forgo sharing this review. I couldn't go in completely unbiased I think. I was personally invested. I grew up with the stigma and still experience it when people discover where I am from. It never fails to amaze me. I wanted to be fair in the fact that what he writes is truth and was his, but there is so much more than that. I failed to appreciate this because it failed to acknowledge that fact.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review, Danielle! I’ve had this one tucked away for a while, but haven’t read it yet. I’ve seen some articles that were critical of the book, and it made me less enthusiastic to read it. I probably will one of these days, but from those articles, as well as your review, I have the impression it’s not going to be what I expected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was partially what I expected, because I cannot deny the sad truths contained within, but it fell very short. I felt that this book (the author) failed to provide a full or complete depiction of the region and it began to feel well.. blanketed or generalized. I wanted to respect this one more, but it is not for myself. I do hope that when you read it you will share your thoughts with me Betty.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow super review Danielle :O its completely random that I actually read a book review of this novel in my local journal hahah and it pretty much sums up what you said. I love how you respect the author’s prose and not wanting to discredit him either. This is is not an easy review to write but you’ve done it 😉 greeat job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank goodness! So it wasn;t just me being overly biased or offended? I struggled so much with this but it felt too generalized. There are many points that merit discussion and a lot of truth.. but a very missed opportunity to explore a region that has so much more to offer ❤ Thank you Trang!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your personal stories as it relates to <em.Hillbilly Elegy! I read this book last year and I remember being fascinated by it. But, honestly, as time has passed I will admit I don’t recall many details. Perhaps it’s time for me to re-read this book? Particularly now that I know some of your concerns.

    Do you think having Vance narrate this story changed your connection to it somehow? I agree with you that authors of memoirs should narrate their own books whenever possible. I always find the story easier to understand in those situations.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.