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

Review From User :

"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.


An eye-opening memoir of working-class poverty in the American Midwest.

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.
Expand text… 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.

Heartland - Part 01

Heartland - Part 02

Heartland - Part 03

Heartland - Part 05

Heartland - Part 04

Heartland - Part 06

Heartland - Part 07

Heartland - Part 08

Heartland - Part 09