(Disclaimer: This is an introspection, not a book review.)
Being an immigrant, and a minority citizen to my own country, understanding where I came from is always important in discovering who I am. JD Vance’s exploration of his childhood and life so far in Hillbilly Elegy just does that.
Yup, I’m guilty. I loved this book because I can relate to it. That’s what I found surprising about it. From Vance’s journey migrating north from Kentucky to Ohio to multiple households, to finding his grind as a Marine and going to Law School, He refers to himself as a “cultural emigrant” who yearned for a successful and peaceful home.
One of the tips he learns from his grandma, Mamaw, who he attributes as the person who raised him, is that “having good role models around you will remind you that there is another life out there. And that exposure gives you something to dream for.” This took me back to high school when I always spent time at my friends’ houses for dinner, especially on Monday nights when my mother threw karaoke parties. But these families I lived vicariously through reminded me that I don’t have to be on guard all the time, that I can have a conversation without shouting, that there are people who listen, and that I can be deserving of people’s love.
Vance also finds himself as a minority to his own hillbilly people, “a stranger in this strange land”, due to his upward mobility as a Marine and with his college degree. He liked the feeling of self-sufficiency and providing for those in need, for the kind of people who he once was. One thing I would say is that towards the end, as his chronological storytelling becomes more relevant, the greater understanding of his past draws him further from it, nor can he really come back to it anymore. He will always be an outsider now, even to his past, family and hillbilly culture. (He lives in Silicon Valley now, might I add.) But the price he paid is the understanding of the things he can control, who he is, and that he isn’t that doomed after all the demons he fought in his youth. An acceptance of who he is.
I’m not holding him as a hillbilly spokesperson nor am I praising this to give me hope during this presidency, but I admire how this book allowed for sympathy and understanding with the storytelling of his past. Vance motivates me to tell my own story. It’s not that I find my own life boring, but maybe I am looking too much into the past to really see what’s in front of me and how far I’ve come.