Growing up as a member of the white working class from Appalachia, the author speaks candidly about the chaos of his childhood: the revolving door of his childhood home, with numerous partners assuming the role of father figure; his mother’s addiction and her efforts through various rehab centers to overcome these issues; and how his primary form of stability came from the regular presence of his grandmother (Mamaw), who was there as an encouraging role model.

Her methods and her language might have been harsh at times, but beneath the surface was a strong woman who could show him the way out by her encouraging words and actions.

From Jackson, Kentucky to Middletown, Ohio, the family had migrated, but they never really assimilated into the middle class, even when finances improved. The hillbilly thoughts, values, and behaviors continued to set them apart from those who had taken on the values of those who were claiming the American Dream.

What the author learned years later—after serving in the marines and then attending Ohio State College, followed by Yale Law School—was that getting ahead required a form of networking he had to learn, and social capital he required in order to achieve his goals. He found mentors and advisors to help him accomplish these goals. But even after college, law school, and a wonderful woman to marry, he still heard the internal voices that urged him to escape when conflict presented itself. An ongoing battle against his Adverse Childhood Experiences would keep him unsettled from time to time.

A stunning, yet unsurprising (for me) journey of life battling the odds, Hillbilly Elegy kept me glued to the pages. Definitely well worth the read. 5 stars.