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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Vance shares his unlikely, circuitous route to an emotionally and financially stable adult life.

In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance mainly shares the story of his own many, varied, and enormous life challenges and disadvantages and his unlikely, circuitous route from a childhood that often centered around upheaval, danger, and despair to an emotionally and financially stable adult life.

But he also explores hillbilly and Appalachian culture and how as an insider he feels it contributes to “social decay” and a lack of upward mobility and stability.

He dips his toe into explaining a cycle of learned helplessness and notes how many people from his hometown(s) (and other people as well) may embrace and rely on cynicism and hopelessness. He explores what he presents as destructive Appalachian cultural norms—fighting, distrusting the government and media, not believing hard work results in change, and often being pulled down by a network of struggling and/or abusive and/or desperate and/or drug-addicted family members and friends.

I was hoping for answers, but Vance focuses on pointing out the layered, complicated cultural and historical forces that are at work and that are difficult to address, and he raises more questions than ever.

What did you think?

I read this book years after the hubbub about it died down, but I don't think (?) that the attention it received ratcheted up my expectations beyond reasonable levels.

What did you feel about the balance of problems and solutions here?

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