Before We Were Yours: A Review #throwbackthursday

March 19, 2020

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
#throwbackthursday

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for #throwbackthursday.

This year as part of Blog Audit Challenge 2020 I’m going back to update older review posts. On Thursdays, I’ll be re-sharing a few of these great reads, and today I’m sharing my review of Before We Were Yours. Enjoy!

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (cover) Image: 2 young girls sitting (backs to the camera) on an old fashioned brown suitcase

Genre/Categories: fiction, family

My Summary:

Two timelines reveal this sad and heartfelt story that is based on one of America’s most tragic real-life scandals in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped, mistreated, and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.

Click here to continue reading my review ….

QOTD: Have you read Before We Were Yours or is it on your TBR?

Hillbilly Elegy #throwbackthursday

March 5, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
#throwbackthursday

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for #throwbackthursday.

This year as part of Blog Audit Challenge 2020 I’m going back to update older review posts. On Thursdays, I’ll be re-sharing a few of these great reads, and today I’m starting with my review of Hillbilly Elegy. Enjoy!

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (cover)

Genre/Categories: memoir, nonfiction, biography, sociology, poverty

My Summary:

Hillbilly Elegy is a thought-provoking, powerful, and sincere memoir about growing up in a white working-class family in a poor Rust Belt town in Ohio. A Yale Law School graduate and a former marine, J. D. Vance is originally from Kentucky’s Appalachia region. His grandparents who were “dirt poor and in love” moved the family to Ohio in the hopes of escaping devastating poverty. Throughout the memoir, we learn that despite a geographical move, the family was never able to entirely escape the hillbilly culture of alcoholism, poverty, abuse, and trauma. Even though J. D. Vance beat the odds and graduated from law school, he still struggles to come to terms with his chaotic family history. The memoir is filled with detailed, humorous, dramatic, and colorful examples of what his life was like.

Favorite Quote:

“I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact
that spiritual and material poverty has
on their children.”

Click here to continue reading my review….

QOTD: Have you read Hillbilly Elegy or is it on your TBR?

The Women of the Copper Country: A Review

October 10, 2019

Annie Clements is called “America’s Joan of Arc”

The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell

The Women of Copper Country Revieew

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Michigan, Mining, Activism, Biographical, Union

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

In July of 1913, twenty-five-year-cold Annie Clements has seen enough of the unfair working conditions in the mining town of Calumet, Michigan and decides it’s time to fight for a change. The men who work in the copper mines endure long hours, dangerous conditions, and low wages. Annie organizes and encourages the women to support a strike, but she also faces possible imprisonment, her husband’s anger, and personal threats. The Women of the Copper Country is a fictionalized account of the courageous efforts of women to organize a strike in the early history of the labor movement.

My Thoughts:

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The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Review

August 16, 2019

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Review

Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Southern Fiction, Book About Books, Racism, Prejudice, Poverty

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

In the 1930s, nineteen-year-old Cussy Carter and her father live in the isolated woods of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. They are the last of the “blue people” of Kentucky and endure racism and prejudice because of the blue hue of their skin. They are considered “colored.” Dad risks his life and health working long hours in the coal mines and Cussy takes a government job with the historical Pack Horse Library Project. As a “librarian,” she travels across treacherous mountains and dangerous creeks on her mule, Junia, to deliver books and other reading materials to the mountain folk who have few resources. She does what she can to meet their most dire needs. Incidentally, she doesn’t cuss! (She’s named after a town in France.)

Early Amazon Rating (August): 4.7 Stars

My Thoughts:

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On The Come Up: A Review

June 6, 2019

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

On the Come Up Review

Genre/Categories: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction, Homelessness, Poverty, Family Life, YA Music, Racism

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

The daughter of a Garden Heights rap legend, sixteen-year-old Bri’s greatest desires include making it as a rapper, making enough money to take care of her mom and siblings, and moving out of the neighborhood. Bri is distracted at school by her rapping goals and neighborhood performances. At home, her mom has lost her job and the family is facing unpaid bills, shut off notices, an empty refrigerator, and the threat of homelessness. Suddenly, Bri not only wants to make it as a rapper, now she has to make it. Bri makes some impulsive decisions as she fights to make her dreams a reality. This is a story about fighting for your dreams against the odds as it portrays the realities of poor and working-class black families. Author Angie Thomas has experience in the art of rapping and her authentic voice fills all the spaces in this realistic story with vivid details of the Garden Heights community and its memorable characters. Although the story takes place in the same community and makes a reference to the shooting at the center of The Hate You Give, this is not a sequel to THUG and can be read as a stand-alone. Each book is a unique reading experience.

My Thoughts:

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Before We Were Yours: A Review

September 1, 2017

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (cover) Image: 2 young girls sitting (backs to the camera) on an old fashioned brown suitcase

Genre/categories: historical fiction, adoption, family

Summary:

Two timelines reveal this sad and heartfelt story that is based on one of America’s most tragic real-life scandals in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped, mistreated, and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.

(more…)

Hillbilly Elegy: A Review

August 18, 2017

Do you love memoirs?

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (cover)

Genre: a memoir, nonfiction, biography, sociology, poverty

“I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact
that spiritual and material poverty has
on their children.”

Summary:

Hillbilly Elegy is a thought-provoking, powerful, and sincere memoir about growing up in a white working-class family in a poor Rust Belt town in Ohio. A Yale Law School graduate and a former marine, J. D. Vance is originally from Kentucky’s Appalachia region. His grandparents who were “dirt poor and in love” moved the family to Ohio in the hopes of escaping devastating poverty. Throughout the memoir, we learn that despite a geographical move, the family was never able to entirely escape the hillbilly culture of alcoholism, poverty, abuse, and trauma. Even though J. D. Vance beat the odds and graduated from law school, he still struggles to come to terms with his chaotic family history. The memoir is filled with detailed, humorous, dramatic, and colorful examples of what his life was like.

Amazon Rating (August): 4.4 Stars.

My Thoughts:

Book clubs and friends could discuss Hillbilly Elegy for hours. The following personal thoughts represent only a few of the many discussion topics this book offers.

Love

The most important thought for me is that the impact of his grandparents’ love affected his life. All through school, he was a bright student; however, when his grades started falling in middle school he states that it wasn’t the teachers or the school that was at fault, rather it was the chaos at home (living with his mom) and in his community that affected his school performance. After he went to live with his grandparents officially, this is what he writes: “What I remember most of all is that I was happy–I no longer feared the school bell at the end of the day, I knew where I’d be living the next month, and no one’s romantic decisions [mom’s rotation of boyfriends or husbands] affected my life. And out of that happiness came so many of the opportunities I’ve had for the past twelve years.” J. D.’s description of the stability his grandparents offered him caused me to reflect on the importance of the home in a child’s life and education. His grandparents were certainly less than perfect; in fact, they had serious flaws which would make one question his placement in their home. However, J. D. Vance lied to the caseworkers so that he would be ensured of being placed in their home because he didn’t think he could make it in life without their love and the stability they offered. Children can endure a lot if they feel loved. This doesn’t make the neglect right but love does make a difference. This reminds me of the story of Jeanette Walls in The Glass Castle…even though she suffered extreme neglect, I think she felt that both parents loved her which most likely made a great difference in her ability to achieve success. Another similarity between the authors is that both Jeanette and J. D. had an older supportive and nurturing sibling which added to the love and stability in their lives.

Upward Mobility and the Family

Hillbilly Elegy offers an in-depth look at the struggles of America’s white working class. J. D. Vance describes one incident when he was in a primary grade (I think 2nd but I don’t have the book here to look it up) that helped the reader think about how important family support is in upward mobility. He recounts sitting in class while the teacher was asking students to solve mental math problems. He felt great about his answer and was delighted when the teacher recognized his brilliant thinking. However, the next student to offer an answer explained how “times” could be used to reach the same answer. J. D. was shaken. How did this child know about “times” when he had never heard about “times.” He knew it couldn’t have been taught at school because he would’ve remembered and learned it. After some thought, he realized that the child who knew about “times” must have learned it somewhere other than at school and realized he must have learned it at home. He offers this profound reflection, “There existed a massive ignorance about how to achieve white-collar work. We didn’t know that all across the country–and even in our hometown–other kids had already started a competition to get ahead in life.” As a result of his classroom experience, J. D. went home and asked his mom and grandparents why he didn’t know about “times,” and grandpa spent the weekend teaching him “times” and division. His point in explaining the situation is to demonstrate that the competition starts at home with the support and “extras” that parents offer. He realized as early as 2nd grade that his poor community was already finding it difficult to compete in this area.

No Blame for Public Schools

J. D. Vance is clear that neither public schools nor public school teachers were to blame for his declining grades in middle and high school. He describes the situation as follows: “We didn’t live a peaceful life in a small nuclear family. We lived a chaotic life in big groups of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins.” He describes again and again how this chaos affected his education, “The constant moving and fighting, the seemingly endless carousel of new people I had to meet, learn to love, and then forget–this, and not my sub-par public school, was the real barrier to opportunity.” Officially moving in with his grandparents provided the stability he needed to succeed in school.

Optimism vs. Pessimism

J. D. Vance relates throughout his stories the pessimism that permeates his community. Not only pessimism but blame. People he knew were always blaming someone else for their situation (the president, the government, taxes, etc.). When he came home from the military, one of his first observations was that he felt like an outsider, “For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider in Middletown. And what turned me into an alien was my optimism.” He goes on to reflect that perhaps getting out of the community and entering the military and going away to college was the action he needed to take to achieve success, “It’s no surprise that every single person in my family who has built a successful home…married someone from outside our little culture.” The culture strongly defined by pessimism.

The Message From Home: Yay for grandparents!

Even though his chaotic childhood was filled with turmoil and trauma, J. D. Vance states, “Despite all the environmental pressures from my neighborhood and community, I received a different message at home [his grandparents’ home]. And that just might have saved me.”

Companion Reads

As I read Hillbilly ElegyI thought of two memoirs (among several) where the authors were able to rise above poverty and their communities: The Glass Castle and We Beat the Streets.  In The Glass Castle, we also see the hillbilly culture mentioned as Jeanette’s family moved in with her father’s mom in Appalachia. From this move, we see that the way her father treated his children could in part be due to influence from the hillbilly culture. We Beat the Streets is a middle school read and while teaching I often referred my boys who were reading at grade level to this inspirational story about three kids who “beat the streets’ and became doctors. Theirs wasn’t a hillbilly culture but they were from a poor black community.  Information about The Three Doctors Foundation can be found here.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot more to talk about in Hillbilly Elegy! If you read it, I’m certain you’ll need to discuss it. In fact, at times your discussions might be heated because of different reactions to one person’s analysis of a culture in crisis. I love that the insights and ideas in this book can be applied to communities around the United States. The discussion is much broader than simple hillbilly culture.

Finally, this book gave me additional insight into the chaotic lives of students at my Title 1 school. It’s difficult to learn when children are preoccupied with what drama is going on at home and in the community.

Recommended for those working with poor communities, for readers who enjoy thought-provoking themes and rich discussion possibilities, and for fans of memoir. Hillbilly Elegy is representative of books that have the ability to build empathy and understanding of different cultures and communities.

My Rating: 4 stars

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Hillbilly Elegy (cover)

Hillbilly Elegy Information Here

Meet the Author, J. D. Vance

Author, J.D. Vance

J. D. Vance grew up in the Rust Belt city of Middletown, Ohio, and the Appalachian town of Jackson, Kentucky. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school and served in Iraq. A graduate of the Ohio State University and Yale Law School, he has contributed to the National Review and is a principal at a leading Silicon Valley investment firm. Vance lives in San Francisco with his wife and two dogs.



QOTD!

Are you a fan of memoir? Please share your reflections on Hillbilly Elegy in the comments section. Did any of the themes mentioned challenge you in your thinking? How does this book compare with other memoirs you’ve read with similar themes? In addition, I’d love to hear what you’re reading.



Looking Ahead:

Next week, Reading Ladies will reflect on our reading roots…and in two weeks we’ll review Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate if you’d like to “buddy read.”  In three weeks I’ll review the long-anticipated (at least by me!) Glass Houses, a new installment in the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny (release date: 8/29 …. happy birthday to me!)

Before we Were Yours

Before We Were Yours Information



Happy Reading Book Buddies!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text



Let’s Get Social!

Thank you for visiting and reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along (see subscribe or follow option), promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

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***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.

The Glass Castle

August 11, 2017

As Reading Ladies continues to focus on women authors writing about strong women, we’re using the occasion of the newly released movie to revisit/review an old favorite…

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (cover)

Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction, Biography

***This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Summary:

The Glass Castle is a tender, tragic, and unique story of a girl’s remarkable resilience as she survives a childhood in a dysfunctional family who lived like nomads. The father is brilliant and charismatic and taught his children about imagination and living fearlessly as well as some physics and geology. A dreamer, he often worked on elaborate plans for their future home nicknamed “the glass castle.” However, he was also dishonest and destructive when he drank. On the other hand, Mother was a free-spirited artist who didn’t (or couldn’t) take responsibility for the care of her children. For the most part, the Walls children took care of themselves, demonstrating ingenuity, determination, bravery, and fierce loyalty. As the children became adults, found the will and resources to leave the parents, and enjoyed some success, the parents followed them to New York City and chose to remain homeless. The adventures are remarkable, harrowing, memorable, and quirky, all the while demonstrating themes of fierce loyalty, triumph against the odds, the power of hope, unconditional love, determination, and protectiveness.

Amazon rating (August): 4.6 stars

Read the first chapter free here.

My Thoughts:

For me, an indication of a remarkable book is one that I remember years later, one in which I learn something new, and/or one that allows me to make a personal connection. All three criteria are true for The Glass Castle. First, it has lingered for years on my list of recommended reads. In addition, this story allows me to gain new insights into the often unstable personal lives of my students at a Title l school and also allows me to reflect on the homelessness situation in that some choose this lifestyle. Finally, Jeanette reminds me in particular of one former student of mine as she and her mom often sought out different places to sleep for the night and often relied upon school resources for personal supplies, food, housing, etc. Like Jeanette, this student was determined to achieve despite her circumstances, a hard worker, and kept a positive (even cheerful) attitude–but unlike Jeanette, she had my support as a teacher and the support of the school (all of the staff were aware of her circumstances).  This student came back to visit me after she graduated from college (she was actually rescued in high school by an aunt). While reading the book, I wondered why a teacher or community members were not more aware of or alarmed by the family situation or why no one notices her hunger. Of course, Rex did keep the family on the move.

Even years later, I remember enjoying this well written, engaging, and inspiring memoir, and its reflection on homelessness. One thing that struck me during the reading is that it was written with an attitude of forgiveness and surprising affection for her parents.  Some critics would argue that she seemed to condone or excuse her parents’ behavior; on the contrary, I remember thinking that it was written remarkably free from anger and self-pity. When asked in an interview with the New York Times Magazine if she forgives her mother, she states, “It’s really not about forgiveness in my opinion. It’s acceptance. She’s never going to be the sort of mother who wants to take care of me.”

From reading an interview with Jeanette (on Amazon) we discover that her mom is now living with her. After she initially refused, Jeanette said she needed help with the horses, an offer Mom couldn’t refuse. Jeanette states, “I get along great with Mom now. She’s a hoot. She’s always upbeat and has a different take on life than most people. She’s a lot of fun to be around–as long you’re not looking for her to take care of you. She doesn’t live in the house with us–I haven’t that level of understanding and compassion–but in an out building about a hundred yards away. Mom is great with animals, loves to sing and dance and ride horses, and is still painting like a fiend.”

The Glass Castle is highly recommended for readers who love memoirs and stories about individuals overcoming difficult circumstances.

My rating 4.5 stars.

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The Glass Castle (cover)
The Glass Castle Information

The Movie:

I was at the first showing today (release day!). Movie-goers who’ve read the book are often difficult to please! To me, the movie adaptations seem to be the “Flat Stanley” version of the book, much of the depth and details of the story are sacrificed. This image sums it up!

a picture of an iceberg comparing the smaller part above the water to a film and the larger part below the water to a book

First, allow me to focus on what I liked. I thought the casting was good….especially Woody Harrelson as Rex Walls. In addition, I appreciated the portrayal of Jeannette’s unfailing hope that her dad would come through for them. Finally, I noticed the love that both parents had for their children even though they couldn’t provide the care they needed and deserved.

The weaknesses include the feeling that this was the Disney or fairy tale version of the real story. Although the real version would’ve been a difficult movie to watch! However, I thought they could’ve shown a few more examples for the audience to gain a true appreciation of the neglect. Otherwise, the audience wholeheartedly buys into the glorification of Rex at the end of the movie.  Yes, he loved them and shared some endearing moments with the family and those facts can certainly be acknowledged; however, the overall neglect cannot be overlooked or swept under the carpet. A glaring omission in the movie included the part about the children making their way to New York City one by one and establishing a life together there apart from their parents. This venture took a lot of determination, planning, and courage on their part (of course Rex taught them to be fearless and to be dreamers!). In addition, nothing was mentioned about the youngest child, Maureen, who seemed to suffer the most from the neglect, especially after the older ones leave home.

One striking connection that I made during the movie is the similarity to Hillbilly Elegy. In fact, reading Hillbilly Elegy before reading The Glass Castle would certainly add depth to the reading experience. They would make great companion reads (more on this next week). Both stories involve Hillbilly culture and the understanding gained in Hillbilly Elegy helps me better understand the Walls family. Another important similarity is the theme of love. J. D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy wouldn’t have made it without the love, support, and stability of his grandparents, even though the grandparents had many flaws and were less than perfect guardians. In The Glass Castle, the children felt Rose Mary’s and Rex’s love for them despite not being able to care for them. The deep love that parents or grandparents have for their children despite their flaws can make a significant difference in the ability of children to cope, survive, and perhaps overcome their childhood circumstances.

Would I recommend the movie?

Generally, yes. I think you’ll find the portrayal interesting and the chaos and the neglect are not as evident as in the book. I thought it was a simplistic portrayal of a very difficult story. I have the biggest issue with celebrating Rex at the movie’s end when he neglected to care for his family 90% of the time. I felt the ending sanitized the story. I encourage you to see the movie and then let’s engage here in the comments!

The Glass Castle Official Movie Trailer

The Glass Castle DVD

Meet the Author, Jeannette Walls

Author, Jeannette Walls

Jeanette Walls lives in Virginia and is married to the writer John Taylor. She is a regular contributor to MSNBC and has worked at several publications, including Esquire, USA Today, and New York.  I think it’s interesting that the impetus for writing The Glass Castle occurred when she was a gossip columnist and her lack of transparency and honesty about her own life caused her to feel guilty as she was exposing other people’s lives in her gossip column.

http://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Jeannette-Walls/19723841



QOTD:

Is The Glass Castle on your TBR?

Please share your reflections on The Glass Castle (movie and/or book) in the comments section. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading, too!



Happy Reading Everyone!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke



Looking Forward:

Next week, Reading Ladies will review the memoir Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance if you’d like to “buddy read.” I think it’s a fascinating companion read with The Glass Castle!

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy Information



Let’s Get Social!

Thank you for visiting and reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along (see subscribe or follow option), promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.

Find me at:
Twitter
Instagram
Goodreads
Pinterest



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s (or publisher’s) website.