Hot Best Seller

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

Availability: Ready to download

During Sarah Smarsh’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country’s changing economic policies solidified her family’s place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country and examine the myth During Sarah Smarsh’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country’s changing economic policies solidified her family’s place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country and examine the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less. Her personal history affirms the corrosive impact intergenerational poverty can have on individuals, families, and communities, and she explores this idea as lived experience, metaphor, and level of consciousness. Smarsh was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up as the daughter of a dissatisfied young mother and raised predominantly by her grandmother on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working class Americans living in the heartland. Combining memoir with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, Heartland is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess.


Compare

During Sarah Smarsh’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country’s changing economic policies solidified her family’s place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country and examine the myth During Sarah Smarsh’s turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, the forces of cyclical poverty and the country’s changing economic policies solidified her family’s place among the working poor. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country and examine the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less. Her personal history affirms the corrosive impact intergenerational poverty can have on individuals, families, and communities, and she explores this idea as lived experience, metaphor, and level of consciousness. Smarsh was born a fifth generation Kansas wheat farmer on her paternal side and the product of generations of teen mothers on her maternal side. Through her experiences growing up as the daughter of a dissatisfied young mother and raised predominantly by her grandmother on a farm thirty miles west of Wichita, we are given a unique and essential look into the lives of poor and working class Americans living in the heartland. Combining memoir with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, Heartland is an uncompromising look at class, identity, and the particular perils of having less in a country known for its excess.

30 review for Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth

  1. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Real Rating: 2.5* of five TODAY, 9 JUNE 2019 available on Kindle for $2.99 DNF @ 41% Entirely because the book is written as though to the author's unborn—nay, unconceived—daughter. It's simply too cutesy-poopsie-woopsie a conceit for me. I love the style of the author's sentences, and I appreciate the depth and quality of her research. This topic...the immense and widening gap between Haves and Have Nots, the cultural forces behind the pernicious lie of class, the racism inherent in judging rural Real Rating: 2.5* of five TODAY, 9 JUNE 2019 available on Kindle for $2.99 DNF @ 41% Entirely because the book is written as though to the author's unborn—nay, unconceived—daughter. It's simply too cutesy-poopsie-woopsie a conceit for me. I love the style of the author's sentences, and I appreciate the depth and quality of her research. This topic...the immense and widening gap between Haves and Have Nots, the cultural forces behind the pernicious lie of class, the racism inherent in judging rural poor migrant workers as well as "native" white folks as lesser beings...well, these are issues that won't go away if we ignore them. Time to wake up, folks. The world needs every single one of us to support positive change and progress to a better future for everyone, not just ourselves. If you can hack the How I Met Your Mother-ness of it, this book is definitely one to absorb. The facts are there. The analysis is sound. I do not warn you off reading it. Caution is advised for the curmudgeonly and the relentlessly practical.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    tl;dr: I was really excited about Heartland but a gimmick makes it fall flat. I was giddy when I heard about Heartland--finally, a book had come along with the power of Nickled and Dimed! Sadly, despite the glowing blurb from Barbara Ehrenreich, Heartland is not that powerful. Even for a memoir, it lacks impact There is one thing Ms. Smarsh does well in Heartland, and that's provide a nuanced look into the women of her immediate family. She's clear on their weaknesses and also very clearly proud o tl;dr: I was really excited about Heartland but a gimmick makes it fall flat. I was giddy when I heard about Heartland--finally, a book had come along with the power of Nickled and Dimed! Sadly, despite the glowing blurb from Barbara Ehrenreich, Heartland is not that powerful. Even for a memoir, it lacks impact There is one thing Ms. Smarsh does well in Heartland, and that's provide a nuanced look into the women of her immediate family. She's clear on their weaknesses and also very clearly proud of their strengths.* Problems in Heartland are: -- Weirdly jarring choice to address the book to a supposed daughter Ms. Smarsh might have borne as a teenager. It doesn't work for two reasons. The first, and biggest, is that it's very clear that there wasn't even the slightest chance of said child ever happening to Ms. Smarsh as a teen, so the device comes off as affected. The second reason is that all the "you"s are also intended to engage you, the reader. That might have worked except for reason one. Smarsh would have been better to simply address the reader directly -- Gaps in the narrative. Not in the stories of the women of her family, although they are there, but in her own. If Smarsh was, as she alleges early on, a surrogate mother to her brother, why is so little information given about this? In fact, once her father remarries and she leaves her mother to live with her grandmother almost full time, Matt simply vanishes from the narrative. The same is true of her father, who she clearly adores, but who also essentially vanishes once he remarries. Finally, after much detail about her early years, Ms. Smarsh basically glosses over her own existence past middle school. Readers are told she worked many jobs, went to college and worked many jobs, and then, boom! She's a professor. In fact, Heartland felt like it started off as a personal memoir that was abandoned in favor of a partial family history. It's frustrating because there's some really compelling stuff in there, but there's no overall framework. It's like being told you're going to see a historic landmark, but when you get there, all there is to see is the outline of what might have been something and a faded plaque with half the words missing. There have been several recent memoirs purporting to be reflections of what it's like to grow up poor in America. So far, all they've provided are partial portraits that, in the case of Heartland, offer you a few stories that (in her relatives' cases, not her own) while interesting, are certainly not groundbreaking. *Except for her mother. Ms. Smarsh clearly has a lot of anger still a brewing there. Overall, disappointing. The ARC note: I recieved an ARC of this.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Yun

    Heartland is Sarah Smarsh's memoir of growing up poor in rural Kansas, herself the youngest of generations of poor women, and the effect that systematic poverty has on her people. The book contains some interesting points about growing up rural and poor, and includes some eye-opening anecdotes about herself and her family. And yet, I'm not sure this book ever rises above the sum of its parts. Yes, there are some interesting tidbits, but I'm not sure Smarsh ever really consolidates them into makin Heartland is Sarah Smarsh's memoir of growing up poor in rural Kansas, herself the youngest of generations of poor women, and the effect that systematic poverty has on her people. The book contains some interesting points about growing up rural and poor, and includes some eye-opening anecdotes about herself and her family. And yet, I'm not sure this book ever rises above the sum of its parts. Yes, there are some interesting tidbits, but I'm not sure Smarsh ever really consolidates them into making her point. The book feels haphazardly arranged to me. She includes stories about the women in her life (great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mother, herself), but they're all interspersed throughout in no particular order. So it comes across as a rambling, not-really-chronologically arranged collection, sprinkled with historical context and additional personal thoughts. But it doesn't build up to anything or come together cohesively at any point, so I don't feel like I'm walking away from it with any new insights. For example, she mentions at one point that the people she knew didn't really care about politics or public polices and could hardly be bothered to care. In fact, they pretty much mistrusted all politicians. Well, if these people couldn't be bothered to figure out who was good for them and who was treading on their backs to gain more wealth and power, then how can the system get better? It's an interesting issue that she could have explored further, but she didn't. Another example is that she talks about how prevalent teen pregnancy is. When it inevitably happens too soon to the women in her life, they'd be set on a lifetime of poverty. But she doesn't address why teen pregnancy happens at such a high rate to her people. After all, teens have sex everywhere, no matter their class. So is it a problem with affording the cost of protection? Or is it a lack of education and understanding about how reproduction happens? This is the sort of insight that could then lead to a discussion on public policy changes that could break the cycle of poverty. But she doesn't talk about any of this. In fact, she alludes to many promising areas for discussion, but doesn't really address any in a profound way. Don't get me wrong, I understand and concur with her general theme that it isn't fair or acceptable for a society to subject its people to a lifetime of poverty without a way for them or their progeny to get out. The poor aren't afraid of hard work, and they work just as hard as everyone else. It's just that the system stacks the odds such that almost no one can escape. But that's insight I already understood from reading other books, and not gleaned from this one. One odd thing that I have to point out because it so detracts from the book is that it's written to the author's unborn, unconceived, unwanted daughter. She addresses her as "you" and names her August. At the most random moments, she'll talk to her and it's extremely jarring. It completely pulls me out of the narration every time. It feels awkward and sappy, like I'm observing a private moment that I shouldn't. I wish the author didn't include this, as it came across like an affected device that wasn't really necessary. In the end, I had such high hopes for this book, and it just didn't quite meet them. If you approach this book as another diverse voice that helps you understand a country full of diverse voices and experiences, then I think you'll get what you want out of it. But to expect any further insights would only lead to disappointment.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    "The American Dream has a price tag on it. The cost changes depending on where you’re born and to whom, with what color skin and with how much money in your parents’ bank account. The poorer you are, the higher the price. This is the book I'd hoped Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis would be but wasn't. Sarah Smarsh grew up poor in a dysfunctional farming family in Kansas. In this book, she talks about her childhood, what is what like growing up in an unstable and som "The American Dream has a price tag on it. The cost changes depending on where you’re born and to whom, with what color skin and with how much money in your parents’ bank account. The poorer you are, the higher the price. This is the book I'd hoped Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis would be but wasn't. Sarah Smarsh grew up poor in a dysfunctional farming family in Kansas. In this book, she talks about her childhood, what is what like growing up in an unstable and sometimes volatile environment. An environment where most of the adults had addiction problems and where most of the women, her mother included, were teen moms. From a young age, Sarah knew she wanted more for her life and worked hard to try to escape the world she was born into. I enjoyed reading this book because Sarah does not play the blame game nor seek pity as seems to be the current trend in memoirs and which irritates me to no end. Neither does Sarah constantly pat herself on the back as J.D. Vance does in Hillbilly Elegy. Rather, she often acknowledges the factors that helped her become not just another statistic -- the teachers who encouraged her, the father who didn't beat her, the grandparents who loved her. She admits that what she accomplished wasn't done on her own and is grateful to the people and events that helped her rise above her surroundings. She also discusses the issues of inequality in America and the economic policies which lend to the cycle of poverty among generations of Americans. She talks about how it feels to grow up knowing you are looked down upon because your family is poor. She talks about how it feels to have teachers treat you differently because of who your family is. She talks about the deep-rooted and misguided beliefs about poverty, that it is the individual's own fault, and the overwhelming sense of shame that often engulfs those who are poor. She talks about the reasons better-off white Americans often look down on those other whites who are poor: "white people of all classes hate or fear people of color for their otherness, better-off whites hate poor whites because they are physically the same—a homeless white person uncomfortably close to a look in the mirror." She acknowledges that even though she was poor, she still had certain privileges that are denied to poor people of colour: As she states, "For my family, the advantage of our race was embedded into our existence but hard for us to perceive amid daily economic struggle." Ms. Smarsh addresses the book to a daughter she never had, a daughter she was all but expected to have as a teenager. At first I found this hokey and overly-sentimental but later found that it actually worked. She "tells" this child who was never conceived about her own childhood and what would likely have been the childhood of this baby had she been conceived and born. A few times I thought there was a bit too much about her extended family's lives, but for the most part, Ms. Smarsh delivered a well-rounded look at the family she was born into. For those wishing to learn more about the issues of cyclical poverty in America or for those who enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy (which is not nearly as good IMO), I highly recommend this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    This is a memoir that has really good content — a great discussion of social class and poverty in middle America — but the author's decision to write the book as if she were addressing her unborn child drove me bonkers.* And yet, Sarah Smarsh has a good life story to share, so I kept reading and tried to ignore the pretentious writing style. Sarah grew up in rural Kansas in a hardworking family that was constantly trying to stay afloat. Sarah says that at a young age, after seeing so many women This is a memoir that has really good content — a great discussion of social class and poverty in middle America — but the author's decision to write the book as if she were addressing her unborn child drove me bonkers.* And yet, Sarah Smarsh has a good life story to share, so I kept reading and tried to ignore the pretentious writing style. Sarah grew up in rural Kansas in a hardworking family that was constantly trying to stay afloat. Sarah says that at a young age, after seeing so many women in her family get trapped in the lower classes, she decided to study hard in school and to avoid getting pregnant. Her plan worked. Sarah went to college and became a professor and writer. She says she worked on "Heartland" over the course of 15 years, and it tells both the story of her family and of the larger social problems facing the lower working class. One of my areas of interest is sociology, and this book has some truly great passages about poverty, social welfare, politics, gender roles, and stereotypes about the poor. If you are interested in those subjects, this is definitely worth a read. It's a female counterpart to J. D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy," except Smarsh's book has a more in-depth discussion of the larger social and political forces going on in America at the time. Recommended. *Personal Note: When I first heard about this book and about Smarsh addressing her unborn child, I thought it was just as an opening letter. Nope, it's throughout the whole book. I hated the author's constant mentions of this nonexistent child. Truly, it was enraging. It was so fucking precious, so grad-school twee that I nearly abandoned the book. I was talking about this obnoxious narrative style with a bookish friend, and she said she also had to tune out all of the unborn kid stuff. But both of us had liked Smarsh's story so much that we finished the book, and later said we were glad we read it. So if you're reading this and think you'll also be irritated by the nonexistent baby, please know that I'm still glad I kept going and finished her story.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in The Richest Country on Earth” is a resounding story by Sarah Smarsh of her family life, heritage and farming culture on the Kansas prairie. With the passage of the Homestead Act (1862) over 270 million acres of land was available for settlement on the American plains. Settlers could receive up to 160 acres of land at no cost if they lived and cultivated their land for a period of five years. Smarsh, raised on family farmland, wrote that her “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in The Richest Country on Earth” is a resounding story by Sarah Smarsh of her family life, heritage and farming culture on the Kansas prairie. With the passage of the Homestead Act (1862) over 270 million acres of land was available for settlement on the American plains. Settlers could receive up to 160 acres of land at no cost if they lived and cultivated their land for a period of five years. Smarsh, raised on family farmland, wrote that her Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors arrived on the frontier in the 19th century to stake a land claim. This way of life was brutal on the vast prairie, the dust, the unforgiving climate, and lack of natural and financial resources. It was necessary for Sarah’s father to work away from the family homestead to support his family. Perhaps unprepared for the unrelenting harsh conditions of being a farm wife, Jeannie, Sarah’s mother had an underlying sense of anger and resentment, her depression and poor attitude may have had a lasting impact on her two children. The rates of domestic violence and divorce in their community near Wichita were high and incomes were low; Sarah’s grandmother consoled battered wives at her kitchen table. The funding from the popular televised “Farm Aid” raised by celebrity musicians in the 1980’s never reached the farmers in Sarah’s community; government programs and aid to assist struggling families were scarce. “For all my family’s emphasis on hard work, on some (level) we’d done away with the idea it always paid off. It was obvious that that the problems small family farms had was related more to commodities markets, big business connected to Wall Street and corporate interests.” When her father suffered from “toxic psychosis” after he was chemically poisoned from a work related accident, his healthy respect for rural women wasn’t enough save his marriage. Following the death of her grandfather, Smarsh’s parents divorced, and her mother left the farm for good. Her parents remarried to new spouses. Chris, her stepmother likely needed treatment for substance use disorder, though no affordable medical care was available. Smarsh studied hard, and did well in school, her goal was to attend college. A great storyteller, Smarsh is a keen observer of the hardship faced by people living in the heartland, and blends the truth of her gritty family story narrative with economic facts and conditions. Now a college professor, Smarsh shifted from blindly following a sociopolitical agenda that hurt the poor and vulnerable population first, the American Dream is currently unattainable for too many people regardless of economic status. Smarsh mourned for the daughter she never had, yet remains hopeful for an honest and fair system that supports economic justice, a dream and goal worth having and most certainly voting for. With thanks and appreciation to Simon and Schuster via NetGalley for the DDC for the purpose of review.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This is a very well written memoir that not only recounts memories of growing up in Kansas (30 miles west of Wichita), but ponders the plight of working class poor with a deeply humane sensitivity that offers clarifying insight into social conditions of the heartland. In addition to the intimate details of family history the book’s narrative reviews the history of the Homestead Act, the progressive politics of early Kansas statehood, the farming crisis of the 80s, the Reaganomic swerve toward co This is a very well written memoir that not only recounts memories of growing up in Kansas (30 miles west of Wichita), but ponders the plight of working class poor with a deeply humane sensitivity that offers clarifying insight into social conditions of the heartland. In addition to the intimate details of family history the book’s narrative reviews the history of the Homestead Act, the progressive politics of early Kansas statehood, the farming crisis of the 80s, the Reaganomic swerve toward conservatism, and the home mortgage crisis of 2008. Much of the book’s narrative is directed to the author’s unborn child—who remains unborn and indeed may never be born. But it provides an introspective second person voice that the author has found motivated her to escape the pitfalls of teenage pregnancy. By asking the question, “What would I tell my daughter?” the author found a means of summoning the purest of intentions and aspirations. The second person voice also provides a tone of reflection and commentary that can almost pass for free verse poetry spoken to the reader. (view spoiler)[Near the end of the book the author says goodbye to this unborn child because she realizes that if she has a child, it won't be this "poor" child she's been talking to all these years. Saying goodbye is possible because the author has escaped the world of poverty. (hide spoiler)] This memoir is an exploration of poor working class life up close and personal—a view from the inside by an author born into its implied destiny. But it is also written from the perspective of one who has managed to transcend its claim, and one who still retains sympathy for those who remain in poverty but also with a critical eye for the political and economic forces that make poverty so difficult to escape.America didn’t talk about class when I was was growing up. I had no idea why my life looked the way it did, why my parent’s young bodies ached, why some opportunities were closed off to me. I suppose we never do completely know even with hindsight. But the hard economies of a family, a town, a region, a country, a world were shaping my relationship to creation. ... I was on a mission to make a life unlike the one I was handed, and things worked out as I intended. ... Probabilities and statistics predicted a different outcome for me—a poor rural kid born the year the country began a sharp turn toward greater economic inequality. Chances were that I would stay in that hard life....(p 2)Regarding the above, the author was born in 1980, the year Reagan was elected and the year politics turned toward economic policies that brought tax cuts for the wealthy and stagnation of real income for the working poor. Early in the book the author makes it clear that this book’s narrative was going to place the experiences of her life into the context of societal forces that were evolving concurrently. When I was growing up, the United States had convinced itself that class didn’t exist here. I’m not sure I even encountered the concept until I read some old British novel in high school. This lack of acknowledgment at once invalidated what we were experiencing and shamed us if we tried to express it. Class was not discussed, let alone understood. This meant that, for a child of my disposition—given to prodding every family secret, to sifting through old drawers for clues about the mysterious people I loved—every day had the quiet underpinning of frustration. The defining feeling of my childhood was that of being told there wasn’t a problem when I knew damn well there was. (p14)She addresses the persistent question I’ve asked many times, why do the poor vote against their own best interests? In the following the author is commenting on how her mother voted in the 1984 presidential election.She was not given to apathy and tried her best to stay on top of the news. Based on what she could glean, Reagan was a good man. The Republican Party would hurt women like my mother in direct and indirect ways that decade—removing the Equal Rights Amendment from the Party’s Platform, dismantling aid programs that helped poor women feed their children, eroding reproductive health rights. Unbeknownst to my mom the Republican Party was turning deeply socially conservative, different from the moderate fiscally conservative party that people in my area respected. Mom didn’t think women on welfare were lazy or that feminists were militant monsters. She voted for Reagan because a cultural tide told her it was the right thing to do, and she had little time or resources to question the wave of sentiment the country was riding. The country was swinging right, and working people were changing party allegiance. My mom was one of them, part of a national trend that I have found said more about political messaging than about what people truly know or think about the issues. Meanwhile poor rural mothers like her were receding from view in both political parties if they’d ever been in view at all. In the last chapter of the book addressing the same subject during a more recent election the author said the following: People on welfare were presumed "lazy," and for us there was no more hurtful word. Within that framework, financially comfortable liberals may rest assured that their fortunes result from personal merit while generously insisting they be taxed to help the “needy.” Impoverished people, then, must do one of two things: Concede personal failure and vote for the party more inclined to assist them, or vote for the other party, whose rhetoric conveys hope that the labor of their lives is what will compensate them. (view spoiler)[The author admits to being a product of this culture when she voted for the first time in 2000—for George W. Bush. But she makes it clear that she's now a political progressive. (hide spoiler)] The author knew that if she was going to break out of the cycle of poverty that she would need to do more than get straight A’s—she mustn’t get pregnant. Grandma noticed my straight A’s, but couldn’t offer much about the path that lay ahead except for the most important advice of all for women like us. “Be careful,” she’d say, “you don’t get tied down.” Like her and mom, I had been a poor girl’s baby and I knew exactly what she meant. For many poor women there is a violence to merely existing—the pregnancies without healthcare, the unchecked harassment while waiting tables, the repetitive physical jobs that can cause back and foot pain. Then there are the men, whose violence I’m convinced isn’t any worse than the middle and upper class men, but whom a woman without economic means will have a harder time escaping. I was initially drawn to this book because I grew up on a farm about thirty miles south of the author's childhood farm home. It was a happy accident for me that the book ended up being such a well written book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    A W

    I read this book with much anticipation after hearing the author interviewed on the New York Times Book Review Podcast. The small town upbringing, the succeeding despite difficult challenges, being the first of your clan to earn a college degree, etc., rang true with me. But I was disappointed in the execution and underwhelmed by the writing. The contrived literary device of speaking to a never-born child, (usually out of the clear blue and without warning), was startling and distracting. It didn I read this book with much anticipation after hearing the author interviewed on the New York Times Book Review Podcast. The small town upbringing, the succeeding despite difficult challenges, being the first of your clan to earn a college degree, etc., rang true with me. But I was disappointed in the execution and underwhelmed by the writing. The contrived literary device of speaking to a never-born child, (usually out of the clear blue and without warning), was startling and distracting. It didn't feel organic to the rest of the book's structure, but instead seemed contrived. It was as if the author wanted to say important things to the reader but felt she wouldn't be taken seriously enough by simply writing in her own voice. A major thesis of the book is that people like hers are stuck in poverty because the American system is rigged. Though I share her concern with the gap existing between rich and poor, the assertions she makes, and particularly the conclusions she draws, are tenuous at best. The author again and again insisted, for instance, that A+B=C, when it is not entirely clear that C is the causal result of adding A and B. I also too often found myself thinking that unforced poor choices made by her forebears were the cause of much of the family's misfortune. I'm quite well acquainted with dozens of other family sagas with very similar plot lines (mine included) that arrived at much better endings because of better choices. To celebrate one's triumph over family dysfunction is one thing; to blame that dysfunction solely on a rigged system—when the characters have so grievously thwarted their own chances of success—is disingenuous. The best moments are when the author focused on her own journey to a better place. The last chapter is the best. The author did not spend nearly enough time investigating the origins and nurturing of the things that caused her to turn out so exceptional: When did she fall in love with words? When did she catch a gleam of the possibility of better things? Tell us how you evolved into such a remarkable woman. A good example would be a better discussion of the great PSAT test score that propelled her to college scholarship. To hear the author tell it, she just takes a test one day, and a few days later is informed that she was very nearly a National Merit Scholar. How did that happen, and how did she become the person she came to be? Sadly, I can't recommend this book. The writing never takes wing. The logical conclusions are poorly constructed. I felt dizzy trying to keep up with all the crazy relatives stabbing themselves with self-inflicted wounds and throwing themselves into the ditch. I wanted to get to know Sarah Smarsh, I wanted to discover just who she is and how she got here. But I never really got to see inside.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Blankfein

    Follow my reviews on Book Nation by Jen. https://booknationbyjen.wordpress.com It is possible that I have overdosed on stories about indigence and the cultural divide, so for me, Sarah Smarsh’s message was strong yet her story felt repetitive. Smarsh tells us about her family and how their extreme poverty lead to generations of teenaged pregnancies, drinking, abuse, lack of education, bad or absent parenting, and all the while her family worked hard to live. We learn everything through the author Follow my reviews on Book Nation by Jen. https://booknationbyjen.wordpress.com It is possible that I have overdosed on stories about indigence and the cultural divide, so for me, Sarah Smarsh’s message was strong yet her story felt repetitive. Smarsh tells us about her family and how their extreme poverty lead to generations of teenaged pregnancies, drinking, abuse, lack of education, bad or absent parenting, and all the while her family worked hard to live. We learn everything through the author talking to her unborn child – in my opinion, an unnecessary addition to this memoir which forces us to reevaluate how we look at our country’s class structure, often based on earnings. According to the author, the government doesn’t even recognize the people who are below the poverty line. She says, “In college, I began to understand the depth of the rift that is economic inequality.” With self awareness and recognition of her past, Sarah broke the chain that was passed down through the generations of her family as she chose to avoid teenage pregnancy, and as of now, parenthood altogether. Reminiscent of Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, and inclusive of some elements of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond and Educated by Tara Westover, Sarah Smarsh’s story felt like more of the same but is worthy if you can’t get enough!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    As a lifelong Kansan who came from a working class family in Topeka but knew nothing of the life of the rural parts of my state, I declare this essential reading. Essential not just for Kansans like me, but for so many who have no idea what rural poverty looks like. Sarah Smarsh recounts the story of her family--most notably the women who held the family together--while also weaving it into the larger dynamics of an increasingly crueler American capitalism that began with Reagan and continues to As a lifelong Kansan who came from a working class family in Topeka but knew nothing of the life of the rural parts of my state, I declare this essential reading. Essential not just for Kansans like me, but for so many who have no idea what rural poverty looks like. Sarah Smarsh recounts the story of her family--most notably the women who held the family together--while also weaving it into the larger dynamics of an increasingly crueler American capitalism that began with Reagan and continues to present day. Bold, honest storytelling and cultural critique, I hope this book finds the audience it deserves.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey

    From the moment I head about this book I knew I had to read it, because I knew in a sense it would be a book about me and my people. Other than Julene Bair's One Degree West, there aren't many books about what it is like growing up in rural Kansas, "flyover country." At one point Sarah Smarsh writes, "there was no language for whatever I represented on campus." Like Sarah, I grew up poor (though not in the kind of abject poverty and abuse that she did), but still poor in rural central Kansas on a From the moment I head about this book I knew I had to read it, because I knew in a sense it would be a book about me and my people. Other than Julene Bair's One Degree West, there aren't many books about what it is like growing up in rural Kansas, "flyover country." At one point Sarah Smarsh writes, "there was no language for whatever I represented on campus." Like Sarah, I grew up poor (though not in the kind of abject poverty and abuse that she did), but still poor in rural central Kansas on an old falling down farmstead. I knew that most of my classmates lived in houses with central air and heat. They drank water straight from the tap, not bottled water in milk jugs from town, because my parents didn't think our well water was safe to drink. Most of the people I am related to, and grew up around are farmers and laborers. They work jobs because they have to, not because it is the career they have chosen. As Sarah writes in Heartland, the divide between who she was and what she becomes as she leaves home, goes to college, and gets a job where she can use her creativity (professor) is a constant line I walk. Some of my family members don't always understand me. Even my own parents look at me like I have grown two heads. College rocked my sheltered little world in much the way Sarah writes so eloquently about here. This book made me laugh, made me angry, made me cry. I related to it in so many ways. One of the quotations I posted on Facebook especially resonated with me: "I've done so many things different from and apart from my family that it's a surprising part of who I am, maybe-a deep allegiance to the same environment I increasingly wanted to leave." I fought so desperately to leave behind where I'm from, and yet, there is a large part of me that holds a deep allegiance to it. My nostalgia for my childhood on an old farmstead shows through when I least expect it. My judgement of city people who don't know the first thing about farms. It's all there, wrapped up in a book that is finally written about my people. Thank you, Sarah.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Stacy

    I purchased a copy of the 2018 memoir, "Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth," by Sarah Smarsh, after this book became a National Book Award nonfiction finalist in 2018. This memoir was massively disappointing, and overall frustrating to read. If you have read any of these nonfiction books -- "Nickel and Dimed," "Evicted," "Hillbilly Elegy," "The Other America," "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," "Random Family," "Just Mercy," "Between the World and Me I purchased a copy of the 2018 memoir, "Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth," by Sarah Smarsh, after this book became a National Book Award nonfiction finalist in 2018. This memoir was massively disappointing, and overall frustrating to read. If you have read any of these nonfiction books -- "Nickel and Dimed," "Evicted," "Hillbilly Elegy," "The Other America," "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," "Random Family," "Just Mercy," "Between the World and Me," "Thank You For Your Service," Nancy Isenberg's "White Trash," or Nick Reding's "Methland" -- then please, do yourself a favor, and skip reading this memoir. Or read one of those other books I just mentioned, if you want to learn more about classism and poverty. The intended audience for "Heartland" is a white, able-bodied, upper-middle-class American who would struggle to find the state of Kansas on a U.S. map, and has never heard of the word "classism" before. If any of these questions sound like legitimate questions you would need to Google to answer -- 'Karl Marx, who was he, a Bond villain?' 'Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, is that like, something on Snapchat?' 'Jimmy Hoffa, wasn't he the purple-haired guy in an episode of Spongebob?' 'Didn't the French have a War on Poverty or something? like, when they cut off that rich lady's head with a guillotine, lolz?' 'Wait, LBJ was a President? wut??' -- then you might really enjoy this book. I learned nothing from "Heartland" that the author intended for me to learn. Instead, I discovered that with each page I turned, the tone of the book became more patronizing, and the author's essentialism of class as her One Great Hurdle in Life became more and more problematic. This book has NO MENTION of ableism, sundown towns, the patriarchy, NAFTA, the corporate employment of undocumented immigrants, meth, black tar heroin, the specific income level for the poverty line in America in the 1980s and '90s, the great factory shutdown and relocation of jobs in the 1980s and '90s -- I could go on and on with topics that either never come up in this book or directly come up but are never labeled correctly or discussed in the narrative. Maybe Sarah Smarsh has never heard of sundown towns, or encountered words like "ableism," or researched the income levels for poverty so she could put some actual figures into her book. I really don't know why Sarah Smarsh essentializes class oppression as her One Great Hurdle in Life without ever discussing the larger societal problems that have led to more and more people falling into poverty since Richard Nixon held office. I just know that this book was lacking in all ways for me, and I didn't learn anything. The narrative is scattered and makes chronological leaps without providing transitions, and most of this book isn't even about Sarah Smarsh, but her large extended family in Kansas. "Heartland" should have been a home run for me. I truly expected to love this book because of its content, which is why I purchased a copy. Like Sarah Smarsh, I also grew up in rural poverty in the Midwest. We were born in the very same year, just a few months apart. We both attended prestigious universities after graduating from high school. We both knew that having a baby was our ticket to nowhere, and chose to never have children in order to give ourselves a middle-class future. Unlike Sarah Smarsh, I also faced food scarcity, homelessness, severe child abuse, and being raped as a child. I'm really glad Sarah Smarsh didn't have to suffer these things, but her tone in this book never included readers like me, or anyone else who has grown up in poverty. Instead, Sarah Smarsh writes as if she has suffered alone, and uniquely striven alone, and I felt no solidarity with her in this narrative. I don't exist to Sarah Smarsh as a reader. She wrote this book for smug middle-class people who ask questions like, "Where does wool come from?" and "What do chickens eat?" She didn't write this book for readers like me, and with every page I turned, the narrative condescension increased. I don't know how it is possible for me not to learn anything from a work of nonfiction, and still feel so patronized while reading *a memoir* -- but Sarah Smarsh achieved both of these feats in "Heartland." I want to give this book negative stars. I want to tell everyone to avoid it. Please go read "Methland" or "Hillbilly Elegy" or "Thank You For Your Service" instead. As a reader who grew up in poverty, amidst violence and food scarcity and drug use, I felt seen and heard in those narratives. Every book that I listed above has made me feel seen and heard. "Heartland" just made me so angry. The entire tone of the book was patronizing. The content was shallow and clueless. I'm so f*cking pissed off that I wasted money on this book. I can't believe it almost won a National Book Award. I waited three full months after finishing this book before I wrote this review, just to give myself time to cool down, and my wrath is still running white-hot. I wish I had read the first Goodreads page of reviews for this book, and avoided it. I should never, ever have picked this book up, much less purchased a copy. Recommended for no one.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brandi

    I like reading about lives that are very different from my own. Sarah Smarsh is a good writer, and it was interesting to learn her family history and her views on the world. But I really wish this book had been organized chronologically instead of thematically. She jumped around in time, which made it hard to keep track of her many relatives and what they were doing. And I’m not really sure what each chapter’s theme was supposed to be, since they were each so long and had multiple messages. Ther I like reading about lives that are very different from my own. Sarah Smarsh is a good writer, and it was interesting to learn her family history and her views on the world. But I really wish this book had been organized chronologically instead of thematically. She jumped around in time, which made it hard to keep track of her many relatives and what they were doing. And I’m not really sure what each chapter’s theme was supposed to be, since they were each so long and had multiple messages. There was a lot of repetition in general that got tiresome. With better organization, the book could have been 50 pages shorter.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    National Book Award for Nonfiction Longlist 2018. Smarsh has chosen to write about her own family’s multigenerational struggle in Kansas to get ahead by working any way that they could to make ends meet. She focuses particularly on her female relatives and how their decisions contributed to their poverty—her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all had their first child at 16-years-old. Having children at such a young age causes them to drop out of school, assume financial responsibilities National Book Award for Nonfiction Longlist 2018. Smarsh has chosen to write about her own family’s multigenerational struggle in Kansas to get ahead by working any way that they could to make ends meet. She focuses particularly on her female relatives and how their decisions contributed to their poverty—her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all had their first child at 16-years-old. Having children at such a young age causes them to drop out of school, assume financial responsibilities when they are still children themselves, and often enter into unwise marriages. Smarsh vows to not repeat this cycle and adopts a literary device of talking to her imaginary baby about how she will live her life differently from her female forbearers. The weight of never having enough money causes a lot of dislocation. Her Grandma Betty married seven times, and several of those husbands proved to be abusive. Her children learned to adjust to multiple moves. Smarsh’s mother, Jeannie, moved 48 times before starting high school. Smarsh’s own mother encouraged Smarsh to move in with Grandma Betty—and it did provide Smarsh with a constant residence which she benefited from. Poverty pounds people into submission on so many levels. Smarsh’s relatives were smokers and abused alcohol. Visits to the dentist or doctor were avoided as they cost too much. Smarsh’s father took a job transporting used cleaning solvent at one point and nearly died from chemical poisoning one week into the job. The farming crisis of the ‘80s and Reaganomics was hard on small family farms. Farmers lost their land to big agribusiness, and the social safety net that could have helped them suffered budget cuts or elimination altogether. Ironically, the poor of Kansas often voted against their own interests. They did not want to admit that they needed help; they preferred to believe that their labor would eventually be rewarded—not realizing that the societal system they lived under was stacked against them. Highly recommend.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) If you were a fan of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, then Heartland deserves to be on your radar too. Smarsh comes from five generations of Kansas wheat farmers and worked hard to step outside of the vicious cycle that held back the women on her mother’s side of the family: poverty, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, broken marriages, a lack of job security, and moving all the time. Like Mamaw in Vance’s book, Grandma Betty is the star of the show here: a source of pure love, she played a m (3.5) If you were a fan of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, then Heartland deserves to be on your radar too. Smarsh comes from five generations of Kansas wheat farmers and worked hard to step outside of the vicious cycle that held back the women on her mother’s side of the family: poverty, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, broken marriages, a lack of job security, and moving all the time. Like Mamaw in Vance’s book, Grandma Betty is the star of the show here: a source of pure love, she played a major role in raising Smarsh. The rundown of Betty’s life is sobering: her father was abusive and her mother had schizophrenia; she got pregnant at 16; and she racked up six divorces and countless addresses. This passage about her paycheck and diet jumped out at me: Each month, after she paid the rent and utilities, and the landlady for watching Jeannie, Betty had $27 left. She budgeted some of it for cigarettes and gas. The rest went to groceries from the little store around the corner. The store sold frozen pot pies, five for a dollar. She’d buy twenty-five of them, beef and chicken flavor, and that would be her dinner all month. Every day, a candy bar for lunch at work and a frozen pot pie for dinner at home. It’s a sad state of affairs when fatty processed foods are cheaper than healthy ones, and this is still the case today: the underprivileged are more likely to subsist on McDonald’s than on vegetables. Heartland is full of these kinds of contradictions. For instance, in the Reagan years the country shifted rightwards and working-class Catholics like Smarsh’s mother started voting Republican – in contravention of the traditional understanding that the Democrats were for the poor and the Republicans were for the rich. Smarsh followed her mother’s lead by casting her first-ever vote for George W. Bush in 2000, but her views changed in college when she learned how conservative fiscal policies keep people poor. This isn’t a straightforward, chronological family story; it jumps through time and between characters. You might think of reading it as like joining Smarsh for an amble around the farm or a flip through a photograph album. Its vignettes are vivid, if sometimes hard to join into a cohesive story line in the mind. Some of the scenes that stood out to me were being pulled by truck through the snow on a canoe, helping Grandma Betty move into a house in Wichita but high-tailing it out of there when they realized it was infested by cockroaches, and the irony of winning a speech contest about drug addiction when her stepmother was hooked on opioids. Heartland serves as a personal tour through some of the persistent trials of working-class life in the American Midwest: urbanization and the death of the family farm, an inability to afford health insurance and the threat of toxins encountered in the workplace, and the elusive dream of home ownership. Like Vance, Smarsh has escaped most of the worst possibilities through determination and education, so is able to bring an outsider’s clarity to the issues. At times she has a tendency to harp on the same points, though, adding in generalizations about the effects of poverty rather than just letting her family’s stories speak for themselves. The oddest thing about Smarsh’s memoir – and I am certainly not the first reviewer to mention this since the book’s U.S. release in September – is who it’s directed to: her never-to-be-born daughter, “August”. Teen pregnancy was the family curse Smarsh was most desperate to avoid, and even now that she’s in her late thirties, a journalist and academic returned to Kansas after years on the East Coast, she remains childless. August is who Smarsh had in mind while working two or more jobs all through high school, earning higher degrees and buying her dream home. All along she was saving August from the hardships of a poor upbringing. While the unborn child is a potent symbol, it can be disorienting after pages of “I” to come across a “you” and have to readjust to who is being addressed. Heartland is a striking book, not without its challenges to the reader, but one that I ultimately found rewarding to read in short bursts of 10 to 20 pages at a time. It’s worthwhile for anyone interested in what it’s really like to be poor in America. A favorite passage: “My life has been a bridge between two places: the working poor and ‘higher’ economic classes. The city and the country. College-educated coworkers and disenfranchised loved ones. A somewhat conservative upbringing and a liberal adulthood. Home in the middle of the country and work on the East Coast. The physical world where I talk to people and the formless dimension where I talk to you.” Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn Crupi

    If you’re thinking of writing your memoir about class and poverty to your not-yet-born/never-to-be-born daughter ’August’ my advice is – don’t. It’s weird and unneccessarily distracting.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    Heartland is a great read. I enjoyed Smarsh's family history immensely. However, I'm not buying her assertion that she grew up in poverty. I suppose my definition of poverty differs from hers. She always had a roof over her head and food to eat. Smarsh never had to live in a car or under a bridge as many people have. From my perspective, Smarsh was rich in love and perseverance that she learned from her family. Various family members spent a fortune on booze and smokes over the years, which beli Heartland is a great read. I enjoyed Smarsh's family history immensely. However, I'm not buying her assertion that she grew up in poverty. I suppose my definition of poverty differs from hers. She always had a roof over her head and food to eat. Smarsh never had to live in a car or under a bridge as many people have. From my perspective, Smarsh was rich in love and perseverance that she learned from her family. Various family members spent a fortune on booze and smokes over the years, which belies her poverty premise. The author also has a tendency to circumvent a person's accountability for his/her own actions. Instead she assigned blame like it was the government' fault, or the system, or a doctor; such as the case of her stepmother's situation. She avoids stating the obvious: each person is responsible for his/her own actions. I also don't agree with some of her reflections pertaining to history and politics. Overall, it's a very good memoir. Thanks to NetGalley for the advance read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Heartland belongs on the shelf next to books like Desmond’s Evicted, Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, and Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed. Smarsh’s book provides a strong voice for and about breaking the destructive cycles of families, the economics of class, and the fact that birth should not be the reigning mark of future prospects. Smarsh is a talented writer who tells the story of her grandparents, parents, and extended family with clarity and warmth. For the full review: https://paulspicks.blog/2018/0 Heartland belongs on the shelf next to books like Desmond’s Evicted, Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, and Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed. Smarsh’s book provides a strong voice for and about breaking the destructive cycles of families, the economics of class, and the fact that birth should not be the reigning mark of future prospects. Smarsh is a talented writer who tells the story of her grandparents, parents, and extended family with clarity and warmth. For the full review: https://paulspicks.blog/2018/08/18/he... For all my reviews: https://paulspicks.blog

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    From the NBA shortlist for non-fiction comes this memoir about growing up poor in a “flyover” state. While I can agree with a lot of what she says about growing up in a rural setting, I sometimes felt she over-dramatized some of it. That in addition to the weird way of talking to her ‘daughter’ throughout made this more of a so-so read for me.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cow

    I had such high hopes, given the reviews I'd read and the accolades this book is getting. But...wow, no. First, it's written as a letter to her non-existent child, which is a completely unearned gimmick that takes what seems like a serious memoir and turns it into being too cute by half. But that's fine, because so is the writing--so many tortured metaphors, so many too-cute turns of phrases, it read like an extended New Yorker piece. When she's writing about her family and history, it's engaging. I had such high hopes, given the reviews I'd read and the accolades this book is getting. But...wow, no. First, it's written as a letter to her non-existent child, which is a completely unearned gimmick that takes what seems like a serious memoir and turns it into being too cute by half. But that's fine, because so is the writing--so many tortured metaphors, so many too-cute turns of phrases, it read like an extended New Yorker piece. When she's writing about her family and history, it's engaging. Any attempt at linking them to larger society falls flat, especially if you look at it even the least bit sideways. On one page, her rural (twenty miles outside a major city) family are poets, brilliant folk despite their lack of formal education, etc. Two pages later, they are not to be held responsible for how they vote and how those votes destroy their own society, because they are simple folk who fell for marketing and how can it be their fault? Perhaps it is my own extended family, who situationally has a lot in common with hers, but otherwise so little. Perhaps it's my own survivor's guilt over having Got Out, and how I view that versus how she does. Perhaps it is having lived all over the US and thus seeing through the ugly dichotomies she tries to draw in society. Whatever combination, basically every sociological argument in this book fell completely flat. And then there's that too-cute-by-half gimmick wrapped around it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth A.G.

    This is an inspiring memoir that not only reveals the multi-generational familial story of the author's life, but also delves into the greater societal issues of the working poor. Sara Smarsh confronts, in hindsight and from personal experience, the economic woes of farming and minimum wage work in the changing national narrative of business, profits, and class inequality in the Kansas heartland. Economic policy changes as in the Homestead Act, the more progressive Kansas politics, the 1980 farm This is an inspiring memoir that not only reveals the multi-generational familial story of the author's life, but also delves into the greater societal issues of the working poor. Sara Smarsh confronts, in hindsight and from personal experience, the economic woes of farming and minimum wage work in the changing national narrative of business, profits, and class inequality in the Kansas heartland. Economic policy changes as in the Homestead Act, the more progressive Kansas politics, the 1980 farming crisis, Reagan conservatism and the 2008 home mortgage crisis are presented by the author as detrimental to the working poor. Their work was underappreciated, undervalued, and viewed with disdain by the middle/upper class. But Sarah saw her people as hard-working, industrious, inventive, and innovative. She is also very aware of the pitfalls of generational poverty and presents to the reader the (in a way) self-created problems/flaws that kept people poor. Alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, subjugation of women, multi-generational teenage pregnancies that put an end to educational opportunity that could lead people from low wage jobs, divorce that caused many changes in residences that interfered with a child's education, and a blind eye and unwillingness to change their lives in the face of new technologies and ways of living are all mentioned in this book. Sarah was an intelligent, determined young girl who was mature beyond her years and who perceived the unachieved aspirations of her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother. She knew she had to avoid pregnancy and receive a good education or her future would continue the cycle. She was determined to get out and away from the life in which she grew up. "I was on a mission to make a life unlike the one I was handed, and things worked out as I intended." As an adult, she has hope that the working poor will see an honest economic system that will enable them to achieve the "American Dream." She has escaped the cycle of poverty thanks to her own perseverance, hard work and education. Yet, her memories, experiences, and cultural history will forever be with her. I gave the book 3 stars primarily because of the use in the narrative of telling her story by talking to the unborn child she may or may not have. While I can see that the unborn child was a motivator to Sarah to escape, it was a bit overdone with repeated mention of "What would I tell my daughter?" There was a connection in the end when she finally says "goodbye" to this imagined child who would no longer be the same child if she were now to become a mother - a different future would be the reality for any new baby as is Sarah's future. Also, there was quite a bit of repetitive thoughts about political policy. The descriptions of the Kansas countryside were quite poetic, but I found it difficult at times to keep track of her family members throughout the story and there were some time shifts in the story-telling that added to some confusion. Heartland: A Memoir... also felt to me to be a less personal book and I couldn't really warm up to the author as some aspects of her life seemed to be glossed over, her teen high school days in particular. The memoirs The Glass Castle, The Great Alone, and Educated were more personnally poignant even though Sarah Smarsh's childhood was also of hardship and survival.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John Bohnert

    I would have enjoyed this book much more if it was linear. The book made me appreciate how lucky I was growing up in my blue collar family. We were poor. A family of five living in an eighteen-foot-long trailer in a trailer park. The trailer didn't even have a bathroom. We had an icebox that needed blocks of ice. My folks didn't do drugs, drink, or even smoke cigarettes like many of the characters in this book. Dad worked hard but we lived paycheck to paycheck. My parents valued education even though I would have enjoyed this book much more if it was linear. The book made me appreciate how lucky I was growing up in my blue collar family. We were poor. A family of five living in an eighteen-foot-long trailer in a trailer park. The trailer didn't even have a bathroom. We had an icebox that needed blocks of ice. My folks didn't do drugs, drink, or even smoke cigarettes like many of the characters in this book. Dad worked hard but we lived paycheck to paycheck. My parents valued education even though they only completed eighth grade. They encouraged me to attend college while still living at home. Reading this book made me feel so lucky even though I was poor growing up in Michigan.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Will

    What if Hillbilly Elegy went further and actually included discussion on social class and discrimination against poor and working class people, especially women? Heartland explores why even if some people do leave poverty, most don't, why the pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narrative is not a response to the behemoth of class oppression and social disdain that working people face every day. Don't read Hillbilly Elegy to "understand middle America." Read Heartland if you want a more accurate What if Hillbilly Elegy went further and actually included discussion on social class and discrimination against poor and working class people, especially women? Heartland explores why even if some people do leave poverty, most don't, why the pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narrative is not a response to the behemoth of class oppression and social disdain that working people face every day. Don't read Hillbilly Elegy to "understand middle America." Read Heartland if you want a more accurate picture.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    I wanted to like this book, because the author has such an important point of view to share, but she has made a muddle of it. I understand memoirs not being in chronological order, especially from chapter to chapter, but this author jumps around from page to page. I made it to page 225 of 288 before I skimmed the rest, because I couldn't handle the jumping around anymore. A family tree would have been nice. Her maternal grandmother is only like 8 years older than her father, and her paternal gran I wanted to like this book, because the author has such an important point of view to share, but she has made a muddle of it. I understand memoirs not being in chronological order, especially from chapter to chapter, but this author jumps around from page to page. I made it to page 225 of 288 before I skimmed the rest, because I couldn't handle the jumping around anymore. A family tree would have been nice. Her maternal grandmother is only like 8 years older than her father, and her paternal grandmother is 30+ years older than her maternal grandmother, and she regularly refers to grands and greats and steps without making much of distinction. I had to write down on a piece of paper who was who. This came in handy in chapter 5 when she started referring to her parents by their first names instead of mom and dad. The book is written like a bunch of stories gathered together from her family history, but the author doesn't follow any sort of consistent timeline or even tell any story through from beginning to end. For example, her grandmother has a child who is her uncle, younger than her mother, and it turns out across two chapters that her grandmother loses custody of the boy to his father, and then she becomes a state employee, after many gigs at hotels and diners and at least 2 or 3 marriages, and then she goes back to try and reclaim custody of the boy, but is ultimately unsuccessful.* Over the course of that story arc we also read about how her own mother (author's great-grandmother) tries to hunt down her ne'er-do-well babydaddy, how the Equal Rights Amendment never got ratified, how to survive tornadoes, and how she (author's grandmother) met and got pregnant by her first husband (not the uncle's father, but the author's grandfather) who was a violent man who went AWOL from the Army. SO MUCH of the narrative is like this, where the author bounces around from person to person and decade to decade, job to job and incident to incident, and it was exhausting trying to follow it all. Maybe she was trying to do this in order "to illustrate how mentally exhausting it is to be poor," but it was just jumbled, and ultimately I got tired of reading it. The other area where this book suffers is that the author addresses it to the child she didn't have as a teenager. Not that she was ever pregnant, but she came from a fine tradition of women who perpetuated their poverty by not waiting to have sex and babies, and she chose to break the cycle. The problem is that the device is clunky and she'll be recounting an adventure of riding across a snow-covered field in a canoe and then all the sudden there's a paragraph like I would have passed all sorts of poverties to you. But some late night a tractor would have pulled you, well fed by what we grew, under a clear sky full of stars. That laughter--- that freedom--- would have been the fortune you inherited. Confusing, isn't it? I would almost have preferred if she'd written the entire book in an epistolary format (she actually does have the text of several letters that her grandmother sent to various relatives in the book) than the sometimes-sorta-second-person format. Or for her to have excised the daughter-that-wasn't gimmick entirely. I think detractors would read this book and still blame this impoverished family for their own poor choices. Sarah's mom, grandmother, great-grandmother (and probably 2x great grandmother, though she gets very little mention) were all teenage mothers, were all heavy into smoking/drinking, and, except for Sarah's mother, all were knocked up by and were otherwise reliant on abusive men. They also moved around a LOT (Sarah's mother went to four different kindergartens, for example), and Sarah moved to be with her father and grandmother in turns. Certainly opportunities are more scarce in rural America than in tony suburbs, but even in cities plenty of women get locked into the cycle of poverty by getting pregnant too young, dropping out of school and latching on to bad characters. *29 pages later we find out that Grandma does reconnect with her son when he's an adult, sandwiched with tales of Sarah's high school experience and more discussion about storms on the prairie.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    This memoir tells a story that is seldom heard - a story of the lives of poor people in America who are white. Sarah Smarsh grew up on a farm in rural Kansas, moving between there and Wichita throughout her childhood. Her mother and grandmother had both become mothers at age 16. Sarah escaped that life, but to her credit her memoir focuses on telling the story of poor Kansas farmers. The best part of this memoir is the focus on women living in poverty. Women who cannot get ahead, or ever complete This memoir tells a story that is seldom heard - a story of the lives of poor people in America who are white. Sarah Smarsh grew up on a farm in rural Kansas, moving between there and Wichita throughout her childhood. Her mother and grandmother had both become mothers at age 16. Sarah escaped that life, but to her credit her memoir focuses on telling the story of poor Kansas farmers. The best part of this memoir is the focus on women living in poverty. Women who cannot get ahead, or ever complete escape their lives because they are trapped in a cycle of powerlessness. Smarsh also provides a concise account of how family farms were lost to agribusiness and economics that made their survival impossible. She describes how this class of Americans moved from being Democrats to Republicans. Her description of life of Catholics of German heritage in rural Kansas was also very interesting to me. Her religious and socio-economic influences made her a conservative college student who later changed her political perspective without forgetting where she came from. I rated this four stars because at times I got lost in the details of her family and following who was who. Also, in the middle of the book she starts talking to a child that I assume was her child. This was a distracting device that didn't really work. Nevertheless I highly recommend this book. It tells a compelling story of rural poverty and particularly focuses on the lives of rural white women living in poverty.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Many years ago, I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and it knocked my socks off. When I saw Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland had been favorably compared to it and recommended to people who liked it, I jumped at the opportunity (provided by Scribner and NetGalley) to read it in exchange for my honest review. First of all, thanks a LOT, Sarah! I was awake most of the night reading, then thinking about this book! Like The Glass Castle, so many things in it resonated strongly with me while it both e Many years ago, I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and it knocked my socks off. When I saw Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland had been favorably compared to it and recommended to people who liked it, I jumped at the opportunity (provided by Scribner and NetGalley) to read it in exchange for my honest review. First of all, thanks a LOT, Sarah! I was awake most of the night reading, then thinking about this book! Like The Glass Castle, so many things in it resonated strongly with me while it both entertained me and made me THINK. (My favorite kind of book) Sarah had a chaotic childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, when the changing economic policies in the U.S. solidified the her family’s position as part of “the working poor.” The ginormous issue here is the class divide in the U.S., and Smarsh lays out the horrors in (as the subtitle says) “A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” Sarah’s family “consisted mostly of single moms and their daughters.” For generations, teenage girls in the family have given birth and then endured mostly horrific marriages/relationships: “Every woman who helped raise me, on my mom’s side of the family, had been a teenage mother who brought a baby into a dangerous place.” For Sarah, that meant being keenly aware that something was wrong: “The defining feeling of my childhood was that of being told there wasn’t a problem when I knew damn well there was. Sarah’s determination to get out, to break the cycle, is clear: she relates that she “looked at my family then and felt I had two choices: be a relentless worker with a chance at building her own financial foundation or live the carefree way…” which reminded me so much of my own thought processes many years ago. She prepared to go to college, and during the application process the “…specifics were unclear and fell to me to organize and decide, as is usually the case for a college-hopeful teenager whose family never went.” On an individual level, her story (like that of Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle) is inspiring. But it’s so damn depressing to realize that so many people are trapped in a cycle of poverty. Even worse, as she did research in her graduate studies, she “…found that…if you are poor, you are likely to stay poor, no matter how hard you work.” A kneejerk response might be, “well, she worked her way out, so anyone can.” But reading the reality for poor people, especially women, provides insight as to why this just isn’t so. Much of the story is told to the daughter she might have had if she had followed the family pattern of teen pregnancy. It was slightly confusing at first, until I stopped thinking so much about my own history and focused on what she was saying. It’s pretty stunning, and I am eager to bring it to one of my book clubs, to see if it is as deeply affecting to women who grew up without knowing what it’s like to grow up poor is as it was for me. Five stars.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dana Stabenow

    Poverty doesn't just happen; it's engineered. Most laws are made by the privileged few to benefit their own class, and even those few representatives and bureaucrats of good intentions have no idea how life is lived on a scale so far beneath their own, so that the laws they pass to help never do and nearly always end in being punitive, which just helps to more institutionalize the poverty. Smarsh is a fifth generation Kansas farm girl whose main goal from the time she was a child is to make a li Poverty doesn't just happen; it's engineered. Most laws are made by the privileged few to benefit their own class, and even those few representatives and bureaucrats of good intentions have no idea how life is lived on a scale so far beneath their own, so that the laws they pass to help never do and nearly always end in being punitive, which just helps to more institutionalize the poverty. Smarsh is a fifth generation Kansas farm girl whose main goal from the time she was a child is to make a life for herself different from the grinding poverty in which she was raised. The story is told to the daughter she deliberately never had because she was fanatically determined to stop the cycle of teenage pregnancy, spousal abuse, and addiction that are the stories of the three previous generations of women who came before her. I had remained partnered with my high school boyfriend all those years, even though he had never developed physical desire for me--a situation that was painful at the time but that I now see served my intentions perfectly. With an unrelenting drumbeat of irrefutable evidence Smarsh proves again and again that poverty is a station in life that has been institutionalized by a government determined to do as little as possible for those who need help most, and then treat as nothing more than disposable. She goes back to her motivation to leave that life again and again throughout the book. No child of mine would ever have to do what Dorothy, Betty, Jeannie, or I did. Smarsh's story leaves you with no illusions about hard work resulting in the achievement of the American Dream, because her family worked their asses off and still couldn't afford health insurance and were the first to lose their jobs and homes in an economic downturn. More than hunger, more than homelessness, shame might be the worst part of poverty. ...financial poverty is the one shamed by society, culture, unchecked capitalism, public policy, our very way of speaking. If you're poor in a wealthy place, common vocabulary suggests that economic failure is failure of the soul. She conclusively proves that the contempt the haves have for the have-nots in American society is manifest and corrosive, including their own. The beneficiaries of a program she finds to help subsidize her graduate degree call themselves "White Trash Scholars." She concludes This country has failed its children...failed its own claims about democracy and humanity. The American Dream, in particular, sometimes seems more like a ghost haunting our way of thinking than like a sacred contract worth signing toward some future. Given we live in a time when our government is more concerned with giving tax breaks to the rich than meals to kids who come hungry to school, it's impossible to refute her thesis. Not an easy read but a necessary one. Maybe read it just before you vote in the next election.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Strong initial effort by author Sarah Smart combines memoir with facts and figures to further explain her family’s hardships over the last century. This combination approach is a difficult one to pull off because readers are constantly pulled from the engaging family narrative and flung head first into demographic data explaining the larger state/national issues. But the most disruptive element of the book is the almost constant reference to the author’s imaginary daughter. The first time the au Strong initial effort by author Sarah Smart combines memoir with facts and figures to further explain her family’s hardships over the last century. This combination approach is a difficult one to pull off because readers are constantly pulled from the engaging family narrative and flung head first into demographic data explaining the larger state/national issues. But the most disruptive element of the book is the almost constant reference to the author’s imaginary daughter. The first time the author uses the imaginary daughter, and explains her role for the author, the device works well. But as a continuing device for the book, it is tiring and annoying. I understand this was the lodestar for the author; but it doesn’t work that way for readers. An editor should have realized that distinction. A good editor would have helped this tale really shine. I had a difficult time finding it. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alex Givant

    Last year I been reading through number of books about poverty and poor people's struggle in USA (be it economic - like Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America; political - like Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, American Prison: A Reporter's Last year I been reading through number of books about poverty and poor people's struggle in USA (be it economic - like Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane, Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America; political - like Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment, A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America, Heavy: An American Memoir, The Guardians, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America). This book is about how it's to grow as poor girl in rural area of Kansas. Her farm was located near Wichita - and all I knew before that about Wichita that such town exists, at least in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" movie. This book clearly shows you what struggle these people have (economics, early pregnancies, alcohol, drugs, etc) and I cannot blame them - if I would like this way I would probably be drunk every day. But she was able to overcome all hardship and get herself to college (first in her 5 generations). Kudos to her on doing that!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marian

    I had hoped to be keener on this one. Best feature for me were the stories of the grandmothers and mother.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.