Sunday, March 26, 2017

Childhood Poverty

Sometimes the planets align. This week they did. Two different settings (Rust Belt of America in the 1980s and the mining area of England in the 1960s) and two different genres (nonfiction and fiction), but the story is the same: the devastating effects of childhood poverty. Of course, we know from research quite a bit about the terrible problems that result from childhood poverty (here is a summary of some of these), but nothing is as powerful as a story.

In Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. Vance grew up in a single parent home with a mom who struggled with drug problems and man problems, but Vance was able, with the help of his grandparents as a stabilizing force and a stint in the military as a stabilizing force, to overcome his childhood and create a life for himself as an adult with solid relationships and a steady job. I thought he made the road from poverty to the Ivy League look a little too easy, and I wished he'd waited another ten years to write his memoir, time that would have given him depth and reflection and honesty that I found this memoir sometimes lacked. 

Barry Hines' A Kestrel for a Knave, though fiction, seems to me to be a truer and deeper look at childhood poverty than Elegy. Kestrel takes us for a walk through a day in the life of Billy Caspar during one of his last days at school before he is to quit and begin working, probably, like many others in his town, in a dead-end job at the mine. Billy finds little to eat in his home before he heads to his part-time job before school, and learns his brother has taken his bike, leaving him to distribute his newspapers on foot. School is no easier, with teachers and peers who laugh at him and bully him. His brother, too, bullies him and ridicules him. The only moments of happiness Billy finds are those he spends with his kestrel, teaching him to hunt. Even that is taken away from him in the end....there's no Ivy League future for this young man, I think.

Imagination Soup has a great post about books that facilitate empathy for those in poverty, and it lists several of my favorites, including Last Stop on Market Street, Out of the Dust, and The Hundred Dresses. 

After a week reading nothing but sad stories of childhood poverty, I've picked up a couple of reads that (hopefully) will be less bleak:

On Living is Kerry Egan's stories of people she has met in her job as a hospice chaplain. All These Wonders is true stories told at The Moth. 

I'm continuing to read Anne of Green Gables (a character that suffered from childhood poverty herself but always had her imagination to pull her through), and I've just started Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton. (I'd hoped to see Hamilton when I go to NYC at the end of May, and there are tickets available, but I just don't feel justified in spending $500 for a seat there....I think I'll read the book and listen to the soundtrack.)

What are you reading today??

What is the Sunday SalonImagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them,and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake....That's what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it's all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book. Click here to join the Salon.

The Sunday Post is a meme hosted by Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It's a chance to share news and recap the past week.

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page. We share books that we found in our mailboxes last week. 
 It is now being hosted here.

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews in which you can share the books you've acquired.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between!  This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from! I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now being hosted at The Book Date.


  1. $500? Yikes. Yeah, I don't think so either. It is coming to Rochester, NY, so maybe we'll see it there...and for a lot cheaper, I hope. I tried Hillbilly Elegy, but just couldn't get into it. I think perhaps it's because I grew up like him and I already know what it's like, plus I couldn't relate to him class-wise now. You might be right about him making it seem too easy getting to where he is now.

  2. I don't think I could justify $500 a seat either but I do like your plan of the book and the soundtrack! I haven't read Hillbilly Elegy and I can definitely see your point. I think memoirs need a little space between events and writing so there can be a little reflection. On Living sounds fantastic! Have a great week!

  3. Great theme! A Kestrel for a Knave sounds like one I should read...and although I enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy, it wasn't really "typical," since the author did have that Ivy League future.

    $500 is definitely a lot for a seat at Hamilton!

    Enjoy your week, and thanks for visiting my blog.

  4. I would LOVE to go see Hamilton, but yeah, I agree with you on the price point. One of my coworkers has a friend who is playing George Washington on at least one of the tour stops. Apparently he was a beta-reader of sorts, so he was involved in the vetting of the manuscript before the characters/words were all finalized. He signed up to get something like 0.5% of the earnings from Hamilton, and he has made BANK. So I guess I'm not surprised to hear the price point is so high!

    The soundtrack is good though :) I listened to it one whole time through with the lyrics in front of me though, so I could actually keep focused on it / keep track of the words.

  5. Great set of books you got there! I hope you have a good week!

    Here’s my Sunday Post!

    Ronyell @ Rabbit Ears Book Blog and join in this week’s Book Photo Sundays!

  6. Have you read The Glass Castle? I think you are right about needing maturity before writing a memoir.

  7. Hospice and The Moth--I don't know if "less bleak" is guaranteed. Anne, though, is always a joy. However, now that I'm the mother of two kids adopted from tough starts, and fairly well-read about childhood trauma, I am highly doubtful that she would have done so well, so easily, with so little understanding from those around her of the losses she'd already experienced.

  8. Isn't it great when our reading seems to come together like that, even on its own? I can see why you'd want to read something a little more uplifting. Off to check out Imagination Soup's post. Thanks for sharing!

    I hope you have a great week, Deb.

  9. I've wondered about Hillbilly Elegy. Alexander Hamilton certainly looks interesting. Good point about Anne of green gables- yeah it's fictional but maybe imagination does help some kids get through when they have rough circumstances?

  10. What a wonderful post! I know we talk to our kids about this since they have no idea of the sad things that go on in the world, but I know they don't really get it. They've never not had clothes or a house to live in or food. I'll have to look to see if some of these might be good to read with them. Thanks for sharing!

    Tressa @ Wishful Endings

  11. I haven't read any of these books. They sound great, though. I hope you enjoy the books you're currently reading and planning to read this week. I'm currently book-binging The Others series and loving it so far. I can't wait to talk about it.
    Have a great week. :D

  12. Really interesting topic for young people.

  13. I thought Hillbilly Elegy was so powerful and really opened me up to a culture I knew nothing about.

    Anne of Green Gables was a book I absolutely loved as a young teen. It's nice you're reading it now!

  14. I've never read Anne of Green Gables. Gosh, I know, right? I should really get myself a copy of that book. ASAP. Hah. I hope you enjoy your books!

    My It's Monday! What Are You Reading? post.

  15. That is quite a price for a few hours entertainment! I'm not sure that a book about hospice care will be less bleak than the ones about childhood poverty. Good luck! Come see my week here. Happy reading!

  16. As much as I love the soundtrack, there are many other things I'd rather do with $500 than see the performance. It's Monday, What Are You Reading

  17. I too feel like reading Anne of Green Gables these days. I also am on a waiting list for Hillbilly Elegy. I've heard so much about it. Enjoy your week of happier books.

  18. Sound like two very intense books to read. Í definitely see why you would need to read something happier after these two reads. I haven't read Anne of green gables either. Sounds like I need to one day!
    Have a great week and happy reading!

  19. I also read Hillbilly Elegy and thought it was fairly interesting, but I've just started Strangers in Their Own Land by a sociologist who lived in rural Louisiana for 5 years to better understand Tea Party members and, later, Trump supporters. I am only a few pages in, but it's already interesting.

  20. I adored Hillbilly Elegy. Gave it a 5-star review on my blog. The tile I gave it was precisely "When two opposites meet in the crossroads of empathy…" because that's what it happened when I read it: empathy :) I liked that he placed most of the responsibility on the individuals. Great post!


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