Hillbilly Elegy
Hillbilly Elegy A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis By Vance, J. D. Book - 2016 | First edition.

According to stereotype, Hillbillies, people of the Appalachian, are uneducated, unemployed, and unmotivated. Abandoned when factories left the Steel Belt, they suffer from a high rate of drug usage and domestic violence and, despite the decades that have passed, things don’t seem to be getting better.⁣

In his memoir, Vance describes his experience as a third-generation Hillbilly. His grandparents had profited from the economic prosperity of the Steel Belt, but now they were also collaterally damaged by its collapse. Vance’s grandfather was an alcoholic, his mother a drug abuser, and in his most helpless moments, a young Vance had to lie in court to avoid being put into foster care. ⁣

On one hand, Vance’s story sounds like the epitome of the American Dream. He eventually attended Yale Law School, leaping over socioeconomic barriers and lifestyle changes. On the other hand, his identity still haunted him: he had anger issues and trouble maintaining long-term relationships. Yet he acknowledged that he was already fortunate for having caring grandparents. What about those who did not have role models? He asked. How would the majority of Hillbilly posterity have a future? ⁣

As a 1.5 generation immigrant to Canada and once an international students in the States, I identified with our author to a surprising degree. I still find myself at a loss during certain Western social situations and testing the waters academically and professionally. In a way, Vance is as much of an immigrant as I am; the cultural shocks and insecurities he had suffered were not any less jarring. ⁣

I had already read about the Hillbillies in works such as Dopesick and Good Economics in Hard Times, but Vance really humanized the families and communities that would otherwise have just been statistics. We can say the suicide rate is X and the drug usage rate is Y, but behind these numbers are families fleeing from their pasts and children struggling for a future.

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