I seem to have the same background as author J.D. Vance, but I’m a few generations removed. I’ve done research on Ancestry.com and discovered some great-great grandparents who came from places like Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia, on our Scots-Irish family’s journey to the west coast. I was born in California. My mother and her parents were born in Oklahoma.
Title: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Author: J. D. Vance
Location: Jackson, Kentucky; Middletown, Ohio; Yale University Law School
POV: Memoir of a young man raised by hillbillies in Ohio.
Awards won: NY Times Bestseller List (not an actual award, but close enough!)
My Source: I listened to the audiobook, obtained from Audible.com.
This is a NO SPOILERS book review of Hillbilly Elegy
I have a no-spoilers policy on this blog. I want to preserve the excitement of the reading experience for you.
The Premise of Hillbilly Elegy
People from the Appalachian Mountains may be part of hillbilly culture and therefore less likely to succeed in life for a variety of sociological reasons including extreme poverty, temperament, lack of education, hopelessness, and alcohol or drug abuse.
J.D. Vance, a young man raised by a hillbilly family in Ohio and Kentucky.
Lindsay, J.D.’s sister
His mother and her succession of stepfathers and boyfriends.
His father and his second family
Mamaw, his grandmother
Papaw, his grandfather
Aunt Wee, his mother’s sister
Usha, his wife
Amy Chua, a professor at Yale University
My apologies to any crew or cast members I may have inadvertently left out. Please remind me in the comment section below. One of the drawbacks of listening to an audiobook is that you can’t take notes on the pages or quickly refer back to the text for information.
Themes of Hillbilly Elegy
I like to state themes in full sentences. I’m not consulting anyone else’s opinion for this – I’m only going by what I got out of reading Hillbilly Elegy. Tragically, I have no one else to discuss this with.
1. Hillbillies from the Appalachian Mountains have specific and identifiable issues, behaviors, challenges, and conditions that affect a broad swath of residents of that area.
2. Despite their challenges, most Appalachian hillbillies have redeeming qualities including family loyalty, love for one another, and inner strength.
3. Substance abuse has had a debilitating effect on hillbilly families.
4. Divorce, cohabitation, and remarriage are devastating for the children of the family.
5. Upward mobility is possible for young people raised in the hillbilly culture however for many, it isn’t likely.
Hillbilly Elegy – Buy From Amazon
Please consider using my Amazon affiliate links when you shop at Amazon. It seriously makes a big difference in my life. I’m a senior citizen living alone and the money I get from affiliate links goes directly to helping me pay bills.
If you haven’t read Hillbilly Elegy yet, be assured I have read it and recommend it. I was enticed to read it because I know some of my ancestors lived in the Appalachian Mountains. Also, I love Appalachian music – so learning about the people of that area was a special blessing for me, and I hope it will be, for you.
The first paragraph of Hillbilly Elegy
Like most small children, I learned my home address so that if I got lost, I could tell a grown-up where to take me. In kindergarten, when the teacher asked me where I lived, I could recite the address without skipping a beat, even though my mother changed addresses frequently, for reasons I never understood as a child. Still, I always distinguished “my address” from “my home.” My address was where I spent most of my time with my mother and sister, wherever that might be. But my home never changed: my great-grandmother’s house, in the holler, in Jackson, Kentucky.” – JD Vance
J.D. Vance’s writing style in Hillbilly Elegy
J.D. Vance’s sparse, conversational writing style is not only easy to read and understand, it also brings clarity into many complex social issues he covers in the course of telling his own story of growing up as a child born to a hillbilly family.
Videos about Hillbilly Elegy
This is a playlist I put together on YouTube. There are 10+ videos so far, and if you let it continue to play, it will keep going on its own for several hours!
My experience of reading Hillbilly Elegy
I listened the the audiobook version of Hillbilly Elegy – narrated by the author himself. Very well done! It took only a couple days to get through the book, because I always wanted to know more. I love well-written memoirs.
My opinion of Hillbilly Elegy
The only time I felt like quitting (my reading of the book) was when J.D. wrote about his mother. At one point in the book, I became quite angry about how he wrote about her. I guess I’ve got some of that hillbilly family-loyalty-no-matter-what in me. The author seemed to still seethe with anger at the way he’d been raised with a mother whose broken relationships caused him to frequently move from one man’s home to another. Yes, she had shortcomings, but she was also a nurse who worked for a living, and that’s something I greatly admire because working for a living has often been a difficult challenge for me. (Examples too numerous to discuss here.) She was unlucky in love and never found the perfect relationship. I identify. I too have been unlucky and despite wanting very much to have a good and stable marriage, I never got that. So with J.D. telling the whole world what a pathetic loser his mother seemed to be to him, I started to lose my temper.
Now, let me add that my own mother had challenges. She had a short fuse, an excessive love of alcohol during my teen years, and a habit of saying things about me that humiliated or angered me. My older sister told me that when I was young, I was her “target child” even though I was quiet and shy. She apparently didn’t like that. Something about me frustrated her. I got more spankings than any child ever should. But one thing I didn’t do was turn away from her or complain about her or look down on her. She did the best she could as a mother with the information and upbringing she had, and the Scots-Irish temperament she was born with.
Long ago I told my mother that I forgive her. I fastened on one good thing. She taught me to be honest. I thanked her for that blessing. I focused on her good qualities and forgave the bad things that happened. I always loved and revered my mother. So when I hear someone dissing their mother it doesn’t settle well with me. I’ve heard this kind of talk from others besides J.D., and it always tends to upset me because I see the relationship between mother and child as a kind of sacred bond. Our society has been brainwashed to think mothers are “the identified problem” and it creates a toxic attitude that ruins parent-child communication.
I have four children who love me. However the middle child, my second daughter, shuns me, and she has done so for over twenty years. It is very hurtful. From the time she was seven she was raised and kept from me by her father and his girlfriend, who coincidentally have moved from California to Tennessee to take up the hillbilly lifestyle. Apparently they told my daughter something that she cannot forgive me for, and I am not even allowed to know what it is. Yes, true – she will not even discuss this huge issue (whatever it is) with me. I’ve been left in the dark on her reason for shunning me for over twenty years. I see it as a clear case of PAS: Parental Alienation Syndrome that has lasted a long, long time . . . and meanwhile she’s had a baby I’ve never seen, been married (I wasn’t invited) and she got a PhD which I never congratulated her on because she doesn’t want to know me or hear from me.
I simply don’t understand or have any sympathy for someone who would do something to hurt their own mother. I try to focus on the four children that love me, but this one child has put what feels like a nuclear bomb explosion into the middle of my life, and has no remorse for how this has impacted me. It hurts to want nothing more in life than to have and love my children, then to be told by one that I’m such a bad mother I’m not worth communicating with. And the weird thing is that I can’t even imagine what terrible thing I supposedly did to deserve this silent treatment. I’m not alcoholic or a drug addict. I’m a quiet reader-artist kind of person. Watch my BookLady videos if you want to know what kind of person I am. I did spank my children (very rarely) but never on the scale my mother spanked me. I think this one child got maybe one spanking in her entire life, from me. She may think I abandoned her with her father but the truth is that he did everything in his power to separate me from her, and I didn’t have the money to fight against this. His reason wasn’t that I was a bad person; he told me over the phone that he did it so he would never have to pay child support again. He lied about me in court and sent a statement of lies to a social worker when I refused to sign over my youngest daughter to his girlfriend who wanted to adopt her.
It is true – we all have issues and challenges. I’m no perfect person and neither is anyone else. Many of my sins involved trusting men I shouldn’t have trusted. The Bible says “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Simple as that. However most family members love and forgive. Jesus told us to forgive seventy times seven (meaning, an infinite number of times.) I definitely did forgive my mother and I told her so – I didn’t want her to go through life feeling like a guilty failure which I’m sorry to say, is what she felt like at times. I LOVE my mother. So reading this book’s mother-criticism and anger set me off, and now you know why.
However – the book’s redemption, for me, was J.D. Vance’s criticism of the child welfare system. Anyone who says that CPS is quite often not good for children has my vote of confidence. This is the sign of a reasoning mind that’s not totally brainwashed to think that families should be decimated at the whim of social workers. I hope J.D. Vance will put his Juris Doctorate to good use in fighting against the child welfare system’s shortcomings.
Even though J.D. was aware he was being harshly judgmental of his mother in print, he did add a few conciliatory paragraphs near the end about how he is now the one helping his mother through her difficulties, since her parents have both passed on to the great beyond. Sorry to say, his charitable financial bailing-out of his mother seemed a bit condescending, but maybe that’s just my perception, and it was actually done out of love rather than duty to a less-perfect relation. Also in a YouTube interview he said he has discussed the book with his mother, and she’s at peace with the revelations about the shortcomings of her life. She must be a wonderful woman and mother, despite the difficulties she’s tried to deal with in ways that weren’t satisfactory to her son.
What I like best about J.D. Vance is his humility. Despite his success at upward mobility, and the amazingly successful memoir he wrote, he comes across as a very humble person who truly cares about hillbillies and whoever else he encounters. There’s nothing that spoils a man more than a big ego and I’ve learned to discern the humble from the egotistical. I don’t sense any pridefulness on the author’s part in this book, or from watching him on videos. That, in my way of thinking, is a big plus.
About J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy
After reading all about J.D. Vance’s life in this revelatory memoir, what else is there to say about him? If you want to know about this author, read the book. In short, he’s a young man (early 30’s) who escaped from a bad early home life, first by enlisting in the military, and later by attending Ohio State and then Yale. He’s now a lawyer living in California.
More books by J.D. Vance
None at this time. He’s still very young. Expect more later!
J.D. Vance was born in Middletown, Ohio, a town his family migrated to from Jackson, Kentucky prior to his birth.
Author’s link: J.D. Vance
Wikipedia link: Hillbilly Elegy
The house on the cover wasn’t his house – it was a stock image. Cool though… I thought.
Compare with the house I spent thirteen years living in, from 2000 through 2013:
Do you think we had a little bit of that hillbilly blood showing through? I loved living in this cabin-type house in Happy Camp, in the Klamath River Valley, far-northern California. So sorry I had to leave but my verbally abusive ex-boyfriend was making my life so miserable I needed to move away. I know, I have the same kind of relationship problems J.D.’s mother apparently had. No relationship stability – a very painful way to live. It isn’t fun being compared to the Samaritan woman at the well, or being thought of as a “serial polygamist.” I’m happy to say that two weeks after moving away from that extremely sad situation, I became a Christian for the first time in my life. Idaho is awesome.
Anyhow – back on topic…
If you have a drop of hillbilly blood in you, you’re going to want to read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy memoir, if only to correct the errors. (Just kidding.) I didn’t see any errors in the book. It was a great memoir, kept my attention, and only slightly veered into sociology rather than life story. I recommend this book.