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

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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. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to lo 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. 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.


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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. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves, Smarsh challenges us to lo 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. 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.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    Real Rating: 2.5* of five DNF @ 41% Entirely because the book is written as though to the author's unborn—nay, unconceived—daughter. It's simply too cutesy-poopsie-woopsie a conceit for me. I love the style of the author's sentences, and I appreciate the depth and quality of her research. This topic...the immense and widening gap between Haves and Have Nots, the cultural forces behind the pernicious lie of class, the racism inherent in judging rural poor migrant workers as well as "native" white f Real Rating: 2.5* of five DNF @ 41% Entirely because the book is written as though to the author's unborn—nay, unconceived—daughter. It's simply too cutesy-poopsie-woopsie a conceit for me. I love the style of the author's sentences, and I appreciate the depth and quality of her research. This topic...the immense and widening gap between Haves and Have Nots, the cultural forces behind the pernicious lie of class, the racism inherent in judging rural poor migrant workers as well as "native" white folks as lesser beings...well, these are issues that won't go away if we ignore them. Time to wake up, folks. The world needs every single one of us to support positive change and progress to a better future for everyone, not just ourselves. If you can hack the How I Met Your Mother-ness of it, this book is definitely one to absorb. The facts are there. The analysis is sound. I do not warn you off reading it. Caution is advised for the curmudgeonly and the relentlessly practical.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This is a very well written memoir that not only recounts memories of growing up in Kansas (30 miles west of Wichita), but ponders the plight of working class poor with a deeply humane sensitivity that offers clarifying insight into social conditions of the heartland. In addition to the intimate details of family history the book’s narrative reviews the history of the Homestead Act, the progressive politics of early Kansas statehood, the farming crisis of the 80s, the Reaganomic swerve toward co This is a very well written memoir that not only recounts memories of growing up in Kansas (30 miles west of Wichita), but ponders the plight of working class poor with a deeply humane sensitivity that offers clarifying insight into social conditions of the heartland. In addition to the intimate details of family history the book’s narrative reviews the history of the Homestead Act, the progressive politics of early Kansas statehood, the farming crisis of the 80s, the Reaganomic swerve toward conservatism, and the home mortgage crisis of 2008. Much of the book’s narrative is directed to the author’s unborn child—who remains unborn and indeed may never be born. But it provides an introspective second person voice that the author has found motivated her to escape the pitfalls of teenage pregnancy. By asking the question, “What would I tell my daughter?” the author found a means of summoning the purest of intentions and aspirations. The second person voice also provides a tone of reflection and commentary that can almost pass for free verse poetry spoken to the reader. (view spoiler)[Near the end of the book the author says goodbye to this unborn child because she realizes that if she has a child, it won't be this "poor" child she's been talking to all these years. Saying goodbye is possible because the author has escaped the world of poverty. (hide spoiler)] This memoir is an exploration of poor working class life up close and personal—a view from the inside by an author born into its implied destiny. But it is also written from the perspective of one who has managed to transcend its claim, and one who still retains sympathy for those who remain in poverty but also with a critical eye for the political and economic forces that make poverty so difficult to escape.America didn’t talk about class when I was was growing up. I had no idea why my life looked the way it did, why my parent’s young bodies ached, why some opportunities were closed off to me. I suppose we never do completely know even with hindsight. But the hard economies of a family, a town, a region, a country, a world were shaping my relationship to creation. ... I was on a mission to make a life unlike the one I was handed, and things worked out as I intended. ... Probabilities and statistics predicted a different outcome for me—a poor rural kid born the year the country began a sharp turn toward greater economic inequality. Chances were that I would stay in that hard life....(p 2)Regarding the above, the author was born in 1980, the year Reagan was elected and the year politics turned toward economic policies that brought tax cuts for the wealthy and stagnation of real income for the working poor. Early in the book the author makes it clear that this book’s narrative was going to place the experiences of her life into the context of societal forces that were evolving concurrently. When I was growing up, the United States had convinced itself that class didn’t exist here. I’m not sure I even encountered the concept until I read some old British novel in high school. This lack of acknowledgment at once invalidated what we were experiencing and shamed us if we tried to express it. Class was not discussed, let alone understood. This meant that, for a child of my disposition—given to prodding every family secret, to sifting through old drawers for clues about the mysterious people I loved—every day had the quiet underpinning of frustration. The defining feeling of my childhood was that of being told there wasn’t a problem when I knew damn well there was. (p14)She addresses the persistent question I’ve asked many times, why do the poor vote against their own best interests? In the following the author is commenting on how her mother voted in the 1984 presidential election.She was not given to apathy and tried her best to stay on top of the news. Based on what she could glean, Reagan was a good man. The Republican Party would hurt women like my mother in direct and indirect ways that decade—removing the Equal Rights Amendment from the Party’s Platform, dismantling aid programs that helped poor women feed their children, eroding reproductive health rights. Unbeknownst to my mom the Republican Party was turning deeply socially conservative, different from the moderate fiscally conservative party that people in my area respected. Mom didn’t think women on welfare were lazy or that feminists were militant monsters. She voted for Reagan because a cultural tide told her it was the right thing to do, and she had little time or resources to question the wave of sentiment the country was riding. The country was swinging right, and working people were changing party allegiance. My mom was one of them, part of a national trend that I have found said more about political messaging than about what people truly know or think about the issues. Meanwhile poor rural mothers like her were receding from view in both political parties if they’d ever been in view at all. In the last chapter of the book addressing the same subject during a more recent election the author said the following: People on welfare were presumed "lazy," and for us there was no more hurtful word. Within that framework, financially comfortable liberals may rest assured that their fortunes result from personal merit while generously insisting they be taxed to help the “needy.” Impoverished people, then, must do one of two things: Concede personal failure and vote for the party more inclined to assist them, or vote for the other party, whose rhetoric conveys hope that the labor of their lives is what will compensate them. (view spoiler)[The author admits to being a product of this culture when she voted for the first time in 2000—for George W. Bush. But she makes it clear that she's now a political progressive. (hide spoiler)] The author knew that if she was going to break out of the cycle of poverty that she would need to do more than get straight A’s—she mustn’t get pregnant. Grandma noticed my straight A’s, but couldn’t offer much about the path that lay ahead except for the most important advice of all for women like us. “Be careful,” she’d say, “you don’t get tied down.” Like her and mom, I had been a poor girl’s baby and I knew exactly what she meant. For many poor women there is a violence to merely existing—the pregnancies without healthcare, the unchecked harassment while waiting tables, the repetitive physical jobs that can cause back and foot pain. Then there are the men, whose violence I’m convinced isn’t any worse than the middle and upper class men, but whom a woman without economic means will have a harder time escaping. I was initially drawn to this book because I grew up on a farm about thirty miles south of the author's childhood farm home. It was a happy accident for me that the book ended up being such a well written book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    tl;dr: I was really excited about Heartland but a gimmick makes it fall flat. I was giddy when I heard about Heartland--finally, a book had come along with the power of Nickled and Dimed! Sadly, despite the glowing blurb from Barbara Ehrenreich, Heartland is not that powerful. Even for a memoir, it lacks impact There is one thing Dr Smarsh does well in Heartland, and that's provide a nuanced look into the women of her immediate family. She's clear on their weaknesses and also very clearly proud of tl;dr: I was really excited about Heartland but a gimmick makes it fall flat. I was giddy when I heard about Heartland--finally, a book had come along with the power of Nickled and Dimed! Sadly, despite the glowing blurb from Barbara Ehrenreich, Heartland is not that powerful. Even for a memoir, it lacks impact There is one thing Dr Smarsh does well in Heartland, and that's provide a nuanced look into the women of her immediate family. She's clear on their weaknesses and also very clearly proud of their strengths.* Problems in Heartland are: -- Weirdly jarring choice to address the book to a supposed daughter Dr Smarsh might have borne as a teenager. It doesn't work for two reasons. The first, and biggest, is that it's very clear that there wasn't even the slightest chance of said child ever happening to Dr Smarsh as a teen, so the device comes off as affected. The second reason is that all the "you"s are also intended to engage you, the reader. That might have worked except for reason one. Dr Smarsh would have been better to simply address the reader directly -- Gaps in the narrative. Not in the stories of the women of her family, although they are there, but in her own. If Dr. Smarsh was, as she alleges early on, a surrogate mother to her brother, why is so little information given about this? In fact, once her father remarries and she leaves her mother to live with her grandmother almost full time, Matt simply vanishes from the narrative. The same is true of her father, who she clearly adores, but who also essentially vanishes once he remarries. Finally, after much detail about her early years, Dr Smarsh basically glosses over her own existence past middle school. Readers are told she worked many jobs, went to college and worked many jobs, and then, boom! She's a professor. In fact, Heartland felt like it started off as a personal memoir that was abandoned in favor of a partial family history. It's frustrating because there's some really compelling stuff in there, but there's no overall framework. It's like being told you're going to see a historic landmark, but when you get there, all there is to see is the outline of what might have been something and a faded plaque with half the words missing. There have been several recent memoirs purporting to be reflections of what it's like to grow up poor in America. So far, all they've provided are partial portraits that, in the case of Heartland, offer you a few stories that (in her relatives' cases, not her own) while interesting, are certainly not groundbreaking. *Except for her mother. Dr Smarsh clearly has a lot of anger still a brewing there. Overall, disappointing. The ARC note: I recieved an ARC of this.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in The Richest Country on Earth” is a resounding story by Sarah Smarsh of her family life, heritage and farming culture on the Kansas prairie. With the passage of the Homestead Act (1862) over 270 million acres of land was available for settlement on the American plains. Settlers could receive up to 160 acres of land at no cost if they lived and cultivated their land for a period of five years. Smarsh, raised on family farmland, wrote that her “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in The Richest Country on Earth” is a resounding story by Sarah Smarsh of her family life, heritage and farming culture on the Kansas prairie. With the passage of the Homestead Act (1862) over 270 million acres of land was available for settlement on the American plains. Settlers could receive up to 160 acres of land at no cost if they lived and cultivated their land for a period of five years. Smarsh, raised on family farmland, wrote that her Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors arrived on the frontier in the 19th century to stake a land claim. This way of life was brutal on the vast prairie, the dust, the unforgiving climate, and lack of natural and financial resources. It was necessary for Sarah’s father to work away from the family homestead to support his family. Perhaps unprepared for the unrelenting harsh conditions of being a farm wife, Jeannie, Sarah’s mother had an underlying sense of anger and resentment, her depression and poor attitude may have had a lasting impact on her two children. The rates of domestic violence and divorce in their community near Wichita were high and incomes were low; Sarah’s grandmother consoled battered wives at her kitchen table. The funding from the popular televised “Farm Aid” raised by celebrity musicians in the 1980’s never reached the farmers in Sarah’s community; government programs and aid to assist struggling families were scarce. “For all my family’s emphasis on hard work, on some (level) we’d done away with the idea it always paid off. It was obvious that that the problems small family farms had was related more to commodities markets, big business connected to Wall Street and corporate interests.” When her father suffered from “toxic psychosis” after he was chemically poisoned from a work related accident, his healthy respect for rural women wasn’t enough save his marriage. Following the death of her grandfather, Smarsh’s parents divorced, and her mother left the farm for good. Her parents remarried to new spouses. Chris, her stepmother likely needed treatment for substance use disorder, though no affordable medical care was available. Smarsh studied hard, and did well in school, her goal was to attend college. A great storyteller, Smarsh is a keen observer of the hardship faced by people living in the heartland, and blends the truth of her gritty family story narrative with economic facts and conditions. Now a college professor, Smarsh shifted from blindly following a sociopolitical agenda that hurt the poor and vulnerable population first, the American Dream is currently unattainable for too many people regardless of economic status. Smarsh mourned for the daughter she never had, yet remains hopeful for an honest and fair system that supports economic justice, a dream and goal worth having and most certainly voting for. With thanks and appreciation to Simon and Schuster via NetGalley for the DDC for the purpose of review.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    (3.5) If you were a fan of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, then Heartland deserves to be on your radar too. Smarsh comes from five generations of Kansas wheat farmers and worked hard to step outside of the vicious cycle that held back the women on her mother’s side of the family: poverty, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, broken marriages, a lack of job security, and moving all the time. Like Mamaw in Vance’s book, Grandma Betty is the star of the show here: a source of pure love, she played a m (3.5) If you were a fan of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, then Heartland deserves to be on your radar too. Smarsh comes from five generations of Kansas wheat farmers and worked hard to step outside of the vicious cycle that held back the women on her mother’s side of the family: poverty, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, broken marriages, a lack of job security, and moving all the time. Like Mamaw in Vance’s book, Grandma Betty is the star of the show here: a source of pure love, she played a major role in raising Smarsh. The rundown of Betty’s life is sobering: her father was abusive and her mother had schizophrenia; she got pregnant at 16; and she racked up six divorces and countless addresses. This passage about her paycheck and diet jumped out at me: Each month, after she paid the rent and utilities, and the landlady for watching Jeannie, Betty had $27 left. She budgeted some of it for cigarettes and gas. The rest went to groceries from the little store around the corner. The store sold frozen pot pies, five for a dollar. She’d buy twenty-five of them, beef and chicken flavor, and that would be her dinner all month. Every day, a candy bar for lunch at work and a frozen pot pie for dinner at home. It’s a sad state of affairs when fatty processed foods are cheaper than healthy ones, and this is still the case today: the underprivileged are more likely to subsist on McDonald’s than on vegetables. Heartland is full of these kinds of contradictions. For instance, in the Reagan years the country shifted rightwards and working-class Catholics like Smarsh’s mother started voting Republican – in contravention of the traditional understanding that the Democrats were for the poor and the Republicans were for the rich. Smarsh followed her mother’s lead by casting her first-ever vote for George W. Bush in 2000, but her views changed in college when she learned how conservative fiscal policies keep people poor. This isn’t a straightforward, chronological family story; it jumps through time and between characters. You might think of reading it as like joining Smarsh for an amble around the farm or a flip through a photograph album. Its vignettes are vivid, if sometimes hard to join into a cohesive story line in the mind. Some of the scenes that stood out to me were being pulled by truck through the snow on a canoe, helping Grandma Betty move into a house in Wichita but high-tailing it out of there when they realized it was infested by cockroaches, and the irony of winning a speech contest about drug addiction when her stepmother was hooked on opioids. Heartland serves as a personal tour through some of the persistent trials of working-class life in the American Midwest: urbanization and the death of the family farm, an inability to afford health insurance and the threat of toxins encountered in the workplace, and the elusive dream of home ownership. Like Vance, Smarsh has escaped most of the worst possibilities through determination and education, so is able to bring an outsider’s clarity to the issues. At times she has a tendency to harp on the same points, though, adding in generalizations about the effects of poverty rather than just letting her family’s stories speak for themselves. The oddest thing about Smarsh’s memoir – and I am certainly not the first reviewer to mention this since the book’s U.S. release in September – is who it’s directed to: her never-to-be-born daughter, “August”. Teen pregnancy was the family curse Smarsh was most desperate to avoid, and even now that she’s in her late thirties, a journalist and academic returned to Kansas after years on the East Coast, she remains childless. August is who Smarsh had in mind while working two or more jobs all through high school, earning higher degrees and buying her dream home. All along she was saving August from the hardships of a poor upbringing. While the unborn child is a potent symbol, it can be disorienting after pages of “I” to come across a “you” and have to readjust to who is being addressed. Heartland is a striking book, not without its challenges to the reader, but one that I ultimately found rewarding to read in short bursts of 10 to 20 pages at a time. It’s worthwhile for anyone interested in what it’s really like to be poor in America. A favorite passage: “My life has been a bridge between two places: the working poor and ‘higher’ economic classes. The city and the country. College-educated coworkers and disenfranchised loved ones. A somewhat conservative upbringing and a liberal adulthood. Home in the middle of the country and work on the East Coast. The physical world where I talk to people and the formless dimension where I talk to you.” Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    National Book Award for Nonfiction Longlist 2018. Smarsh has chosen to write about her own family’s multigenerational struggle in Kansas to get ahead by working any way that they could to make ends meet. She focuses particularly on her female relatives and how their decisions contributed to their poverty—her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all had their first child at 16-years-old. Having children at such a young age causes them to drop out of school, assume financial responsibilities National Book Award for Nonfiction Longlist 2018. Smarsh has chosen to write about her own family’s multigenerational struggle in Kansas to get ahead by working any way that they could to make ends meet. She focuses particularly on her female relatives and how their decisions contributed to their poverty—her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all had their first child at 16-years-old. Having children at such a young age causes them to drop out of school, assume financial responsibilities when they are still children themselves, and often enter into unwise marriages. Smarsh vows to not repeat this cycle and adopts a literary device of talking to her imaginary baby about how she will live her life differently from her female forbearers. The weight of never having enough money causes a lot of dislocation. Her Grandma Betty married seven times, and several of those husbands proved to be abusive. Her children learned to adjust to multiple moves. Smarsh’s mother, Jeannie, moved 48 times before starting high school. Smarsh’s own mother encouraged Smarsh to move in with Grandma Betty—and it did provide Smarsh with a constant residence which she benefited from. Poverty pounds people into submission on so many levels. Smarsh’s relatives were smokers and abused alcohol. Visits to the dentist or doctor were avoided as they cost too much. Smarsh’s father took a job transporting used cleaning solvent at one point and nearly died from chemical poisoning one week into the job. The farming crisis of the ‘80s and Reaganomics was hard on small family farms. Farmers lost their land to big agribusiness, and the social safety net that could have helped them suffered budget cuts or elimination altogether. Ironically, the poor of Kansas often voted against their own interests. They did not want to admit that they needed help; they preferred to believe that their labor would eventually be rewarded—not realizing that the societal system they lived under was stacked against them. Highly recommend.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth A.G.

    This is an inspiring memoir that not only reveals the multi-generational familial story of the author's life, but also delves into the greater societal issues of the working poor. Sara Smarsh confronts, in hindsight and from personal experience, the economic woes of farming and minimum wage work in the changing national narrative of business, profits, and class inequality in the Kansas heartland. Economic policy changes as in the Homestead Act, the more progressive Kansas politics, the 1980 farm This is an inspiring memoir that not only reveals the multi-generational familial story of the author's life, but also delves into the greater societal issues of the working poor. Sara Smarsh confronts, in hindsight and from personal experience, the economic woes of farming and minimum wage work in the changing national narrative of business, profits, and class inequality in the Kansas heartland. Economic policy changes as in the Homestead Act, the more progressive Kansas politics, the 1980 farming crisis, Reagan conservatism and the 2008 home mortgage crisis are presented by the author as detrimental to the working poor. Their work was underappreciated, undervalued, and viewed with disdain by the middle/upper class. But Sarah saw her people as hard-working, industrious, inventive, and innovative. She is also very aware of the pitfalls of generational poverty and presents to the reader the (in a way) self-created problems/flaws that kept people poor. Alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, subjugation of women, multi-generational teenage pregnancies that put an end to educational opportunity that could lead people from low wage jobs, divorce that caused many changes in residences that interfered with a child's education, and a blind eye and unwillingness to change their lives in the face of new technologies and ways of living are all mentioned in this book. Sarah was an intelligent, determined young girl who was mature beyond her years and who perceived the unachieved aspirations of her great-grandmother, grandmother and mother. She knew she had to avoid pregnancy and receive a good education or her future would continue the cycle. She was determined to get out and away from the life in which she grew up. "I was on a mission to make a life unlike the one I was handed, and things worked out as I intended." As an adult, she has hope that the working poor will see an honest economic system that will enable them to achieve the "American Dream." She has escaped the cycle of poverty thanks to her own perseverance, hard work and education. Yet, her memories, experiences, and cultural history will forever be with her. I gave the book 3 stars primarily because of the use in the narrative of telling her story by talking to the unborn child she may or may not have. While I can see that the unborn child was a motivator to Sarah to escape, it was a bit overdone with repeated mention of "What would I tell my daughter?" There was a connection in the end when she finally says "goodbye" to this imagined child who would no longer be the same child if she were now to become a mother - a different future would be the reality for any new baby as is Sarah's future. Also, there was quite a bit of repetitive thoughts about political policy. The descriptions of the Kansas countryside were quite poetic, but I found it difficult at times to keep track of her family members throughout the story and there were some time shifts in the story-telling that added to some confusion. Heartland: A Memoir... also felt to me to be a less personal book and I couldn't really warm up to the author as some aspects of her life seemed to be glossed over, her teen high school days in particular. The memoirs The Glass Castle, The Great Alone, and Educated were more personnally poignant even though Sarah Smarsh's childhood was also of hardship and survival.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    Heartland is a great read. I enjoyed Smarsh's family history immensely. However, I'm not buying her assertion that she grew up in poverty. I suppose my definition of poverty differs from hers. She always had a roof over her head and food to eat. Smarsh never had to live in a car or under a bridge as many people have. From my perspective, Smarsh was rich in love and perseverance that she learned from her family. Various family members spent a fortune on booze and smokes over the years, which beli Heartland is a great read. I enjoyed Smarsh's family history immensely. However, I'm not buying her assertion that she grew up in poverty. I suppose my definition of poverty differs from hers. She always had a roof over her head and food to eat. Smarsh never had to live in a car or under a bridge as many people have. From my perspective, Smarsh was rich in love and perseverance that she learned from her family. Various family members spent a fortune on booze and smokes over the years, which belies her poverty premise. The author also has a tendency to circumvent a person's accountability for his/her own actions. Instead she assigned blame like it was the government' fault, or the system, or a doctor; such as the case of her stepmother's situation. She avoids stating the obvious: each person is responsible for his/her own actions. I also don't agree with some of her reflections pertaining to history and politics. Overall, it's a very good memoir. Thanks to NetGalley for the advance read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Heartland belongs on the shelf next to books like Desmond’s Evicted, Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, and Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed. Smarsh’s book provides a strong voice for and about breaking the destructive cycles of families, the economics of class, and the fact that birth should not be the reigning mark of future prospects. Smarsh is a talented writer who tells the story of her grandparents, parents, and extended family with clarity and warmth. For the full review: https://paulspicks.blog/2018/0 Heartland belongs on the shelf next to books like Desmond’s Evicted, Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, and Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed. Smarsh’s book provides a strong voice for and about breaking the destructive cycles of families, the economics of class, and the fact that birth should not be the reigning mark of future prospects. Smarsh is a talented writer who tells the story of her grandparents, parents, and extended family with clarity and warmth. For the full review: https://paulspicks.blog/2018/08/18/he... For all my reviews: https://paulspicks.blog

  10. 4 out of 5

    Brandi

    I like reading about lives that are very different from my own. Sarah Smarsh is a good writer, and it was interesting to learn her family history and her views on the world. But I really wish this book had been organized chronologically instead of thematically. She jumped around in time, which made it hard to keep track of her many relatives and what they were doing. And I’m not really sure what each chapter’s theme was supposed to be, since they were each so long and had multiple messages. Ther I like reading about lives that are very different from my own. Sarah Smarsh is a good writer, and it was interesting to learn her family history and her views on the world. But I really wish this book had been organized chronologically instead of thematically. She jumped around in time, which made it hard to keep track of her many relatives and what they were doing. And I’m not really sure what each chapter’s theme was supposed to be, since they were each so long and had multiple messages. There was a lot of repetition in general that got tiresome. With better organization, the book could have been 50 pages shorter.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    As a lifelong Kansan who came from a working class family in Topeka but knew nothing of the life of the rural parts of my state, I declare this essential reading. Essential not just for Kansans like me, but for so many who have no idea what rural poverty looks like. Sarah Smarsh recounts the story of her family--most notably the women who held the family together--while also weaving it into the larger dynamics of an increasingly crueler American capitalism that began with Reagan and continues to As a lifelong Kansan who came from a working class family in Topeka but knew nothing of the life of the rural parts of my state, I declare this essential reading. Essential not just for Kansans like me, but for so many who have no idea what rural poverty looks like. Sarah Smarsh recounts the story of her family--most notably the women who held the family together--while also weaving it into the larger dynamics of an increasingly crueler American capitalism that began with Reagan and continues to present day. Bold, honest storytelling and cultural critique, I hope this book finds the audience it deserves.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jerrie (redwritinghood)

    From the NBA shortlist for non-fiction comes this memoir about growing up poor in a “flyover” state. While I can agree with a lot of what she says about growing up in a rural setting, I sometimes felt she over-dramatized some of it. That in addition to the weird way of talking to her ‘daughter’ throughout made this more of a so-so read for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    M

    I read this book with much anticipation after hearing the author interviewed on the New York Times Book Review Podcast. The small town upbringing, the succeeding despite difficult challenges, being the first of your clan to earn a college degree, etc., rang true with me. But I was disappointed in the execution and underwhelmed by the writing. The contrived literary device of speaking to a never-born child, (usually out of the clear blue and without warning), was startling and distracting. It didn I read this book with much anticipation after hearing the author interviewed on the New York Times Book Review Podcast. The small town upbringing, the succeeding despite difficult challenges, being the first of your clan to earn a college degree, etc., rang true with me. But I was disappointed in the execution and underwhelmed by the writing. The contrived literary device of speaking to a never-born child, (usually out of the clear blue and without warning), was startling and distracting. It didn't feel organic to the rest of the book's structure, but instead seemed contrived. It was as if the author wanted to say important things to the reader but felt she wouldn't be taken seriously enough by simply writing in her own voice. A major thesis of the book is that people like hers are stuck in poverty because the American system is rigged. Though I share her concern with the gap existing between rich and poor, the assertions she makes, and particularly the conclusions she draws, are tenuous at best. The author again and again insisted, for instance, that A+B=C, when it is not entirely clear that C is the causal result of adding A and B. I also too often found myself thinking that unforced poor choices made by her forebears were the cause of much of the family's misfortune. I'm quite well acquainted with dozens of other family sagas with very similar plot lines (mine included) that arrived at much better endings because of better choices. To celebrate one's triumph over family dysfunction is one thing; to blame that dysfunction solely on a rigged system—when the characters have so grievously thwarted their own chances of success—is disingenuous. The best moments are when the author focused on her own journey to a better place. The last chapter is the best. The author did not spend nearly enough time investigating the origins and nurturing of the things that caused her to turn out so exceptional: When did she fall in love with words? When did she catch a gleam of the possibility of better things? Tell us how you evolved into such a remarkable woman. A good example would be a better discussion of the great PSAT test score that propelled her to college scholarship. To hear the author tell it, she just takes a test one day, and a few days later is informed that she was very nearly a National Merit Scholar. How did that happen, and how did she become the person she came to be? Sadly, I can't recommend this book. The writing never takes wing. The logical conclusions are poorly constructed. I felt dizzy trying to keep up with all the crazy relatives stabbing themselves with self-inflicted wounds and throwing themselves into the ditch. I wanted to get to know Sarah Smarsh, I wanted to discover just who she is and how she got here. But I never really got to see inside.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Blankfein

    Review to come on Book Nation by Jen. https://booknationbyjen.wordpress.com

  15. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Many years ago, I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and it knocked my socks off. When I saw Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland had been favorably compared to it and recommended to people who liked it, I jumped at the opportunity (provided by Scribner and NetGalley) to read it in exchange for my honest review. First of all, thanks a LOT, Sarah! I was awake most of the night reading, then thinking about this book! Like The Glass Castle, so many things in it resonated strongly with me while it both e Many years ago, I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and it knocked my socks off. When I saw Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland had been favorably compared to it and recommended to people who liked it, I jumped at the opportunity (provided by Scribner and NetGalley) to read it in exchange for my honest review. First of all, thanks a LOT, Sarah! I was awake most of the night reading, then thinking about this book! Like The Glass Castle, so many things in it resonated strongly with me while it both entertained me and made me THINK. (My favorite kind of book) Sarah had a chaotic childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, when the changing economic policies in the U.S. solidified the her family’s position as part of “the working poor.” The ginormous issue here is the class divide in the U.S., and Smarsh lays out the horrors in (as the subtitle says) “A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” Sarah’s family “consisted mostly of single moms and their daughters.” For generations, teenage girls in the family have given birth and then endured mostly horrific marriages/relationships: “Every woman who helped raise me, on my mom’s side of the family, had been a teenage mother who brought a baby into a dangerous place.” For Sarah, that meant being keenly aware that something was wrong: “The defining feeling of my childhood was that of being told there wasn’t a problem when I knew damn well there was. Sarah’s determination to get out, to break the cycle, is clear: she relates that she “looked at my family then and felt I had two choices: be a relentless worker with a chance at building her own financial foundation or live the carefree way…” which reminded me so much of my own thought processes many years ago. She prepared to go to college, and during the application process the “…specifics were unclear and fell to me to organize and decide, as is usually the case for a college-hopeful teenager whose family never went.” On an individual level, her story (like that of Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle) is inspiring. But it’s so damn depressing to realize that so many people are trapped in a cycle of poverty. Even worse, as she did research in her graduate studies, she “…found that…if you are poor, you are likely to stay poor, no matter how hard you work.” A kneejerk response might be, “well, she worked her way out, so anyone can.” But reading the reality for poor people, especially women, provides insight as to why this just isn’t so. Much of the story is told to the daughter she might have had if she had followed the family pattern of teen pregnancy. It was slightly confusing at first, until I stopped thinking so much about my own history and focused on what she was saying. It’s pretty stunning, and I am eager to bring it to one of my book clubs, to see if it is as deeply affecting to women who grew up without knowing what it’s like to grow up poor is as it was for me. Five stars.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Strong initial effort by author Sarah Smart combines memoir with facts and figures to further explain her family’s hardships over the last century. This combination approach is a difficult one to pull off because readers are constantly pulled from the engaging family narrative and flung head first into demographic data explaining the larger state/national issues. But the most disruptive element of the book is the almost constant reference to the author’s imaginary daughter. The first time the au Strong initial effort by author Sarah Smart combines memoir with facts and figures to further explain her family’s hardships over the last century. This combination approach is a difficult one to pull off because readers are constantly pulled from the engaging family narrative and flung head first into demographic data explaining the larger state/national issues. But the most disruptive element of the book is the almost constant reference to the author’s imaginary daughter. The first time the author uses the imaginary daughter, and explains her role for the author, the device works well. But as a continuing device for the book, it is tiring and annoying. I understand this was the lodestar for the author; but it doesn’t work that way for readers. An editor should have realized that distinction. A good editor would have helped this tale really shine. I had a difficult time finding it. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    From the moment I head about this book I knew I had to read it, because I knew in a sense it would be a book about me and my people. Other than Julene Bair's One Degree West, there aren't many books about what it is like growing up in rural Kansas, "flyover country." At one point Sarah Smarsh writes, "there was no language for whatever I represented on campus." Like Sarah, I grew up poor (though not in the kind of abject poverty and abuse that she did), but still poor in rural central Kansas on a From the moment I head about this book I knew I had to read it, because I knew in a sense it would be a book about me and my people. Other than Julene Bair's One Degree West, there aren't many books about what it is like growing up in rural Kansas, "flyover country." At one point Sarah Smarsh writes, "there was no language for whatever I represented on campus." Like Sarah, I grew up poor (though not in the kind of abject poverty and abuse that she did), but still poor in rural central Kansas on an old falling down farmstead. I knew that most of my classmates lived in houses with central air and heat. They drank water straight from the tap, not bottled water in milk jugs from town, because my parents didn't think our well water was safe to drink. Most of the people I am related to, and grew up around are farmers and laborers. They work jobs because they have to, not because it is the career they have chosen. As Sarah writes in Heartland, the divide between who she was and what she becomes as she leaves home, goes to college, and gets a job where she can use her creativity (professor) is a constant line I walk. Some of my family members don't always understand me. Even my own parents look at me like I have grown two heads. College rocked my sheltered little world in much the way Sarah writes so eloquently about here. This book made me laugh, made me angry, made me cry. I related to it in so many ways. One of the quotations I posted on Facebook especially resonated with me: "I've done so many things different from and apart from my family that it's a surprising part of who I am, maybe-a deep allegiance to the same environment I increasingly wanted to leave." I fought so desperately to leave behind where I'm from, and yet, there is a large part of me that holds a deep allegiance to it. My nostalgia for my childhood on an old farmstead shows through when I least expect it. My judgement of city people who don't know the first thing about farms. It's all there, wrapped up in a book that is finally written about my people. Thank you, Sarah.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kayo

    Wasn't what I was expecting. Not up to Nickel and Dimed, not that I compared. Not thrilled that I could't give a review for months after I got it from Netgalley! Thanks to author, publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free, it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marian

    I had hoped to be keener on this one. Best feature for me were the stories of the grandmothers and mother.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    In a sense it's a shame that this book is being marketed as a window into understanding the white working class. Lumping this title in with crappy, moralistic screeds (I'm thinking mainly here of Hillbilly Elegy) in order to sell more books doesn't do Smarsh's work justice. It's a beautifully written memoir, you could teach it in an English class, and it explores so much more than just the white working class as we "understand" it through repetitive New York Times feature stories. (And it was th In a sense it's a shame that this book is being marketed as a window into understanding the white working class. Lumping this title in with crappy, moralistic screeds (I'm thinking mainly here of Hillbilly Elegy) in order to sell more books doesn't do Smarsh's work justice. It's a beautifully written memoir, you could teach it in an English class, and it explores so much more than just the white working class as we "understand" it through repetitive New York Times feature stories. (And it was the few times that the book fell out of personal storytelling and into generalization and moralizing that knocked it down to four stars for me.) This book has some of the smartest feminist thought I've read in years. Smarsh writes gorgeously and brilliantly about being a creative, artistic woman caught in the country with no way out (cause you've got no money!), about becoming a mother when you're seventeen and how that might make you really hate motherhood. About the pain of being the daughter of a woman who hates motherhood. She writes about the deep, dangerous flaws in this society of ours: an education system that lets poor kids slip through the cracks, a justice system that punishes the poor for being poor, a healthcare system that makes it so the people whose bodies work the hardest and are the most likely to be injured have the hardest time getting affordable care, or any care at all. And the book's main narrative device--Smarsh writes to the unborn child she's always known is real but that she never wanted to bring into the world and never will--broke my heart in two at certain points. This is really worth reading.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Casey Wheeler

    I received a free Kindle copy of Heartland by Sarah Smarsh courtesy of Net Galley  and Scribner, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages. I requested this book as  I  work in a nonprofit and the subject of the book deals with poverty which is important in the work that I do.  This is the first book by Sarah Sma I received a free Kindle copy of Heartland by Sarah Smarsh courtesy of Net Galley  and Scribner, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages. I requested this book as  I  work in a nonprofit and the subject of the book deals with poverty which is important in the work that I do.  This is the first book by Sarah Smarsh that I have read. This book presents a clear picture of growing up in a multigenerational situation of poverty and the atempt to break out of the cycle when the political/economic structure of the country goes counter to what you are trying to achieve. The author's writing style is a bit unpolished which adds to the understanding of the situation. Eventually this book will be as important to understanding what people in poverty experience as in "Evitcted". I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in learning more about the struggles in trying to escape poverty in a less than supporting environment.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Will

    What if Hillbilly Elegy went further and actually included discussion on social class and discrimination against poor and working class people, especially women? Heartland explores why even if some people do leave poverty, most don't, why the pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narrative is not a response to the behemoth of class oppression and social disdain that working people face every day. Don't read Hillbilly Elegy to "understand middle America." Read Heartland if you want a more accurate What if Hillbilly Elegy went further and actually included discussion on social class and discrimination against poor and working class people, especially women? Heartland explores why even if some people do leave poverty, most don't, why the pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps narrative is not a response to the behemoth of class oppression and social disdain that working people face every day. Don't read Hillbilly Elegy to "understand middle America." Read Heartland if you want a more accurate picture.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cow

    I had such high hopes, given the reviews I'd read and the accolades this book is getting. But...wow, no. First, it's written as a letter to her non-existent child, which is a completely unearned gimmick that takes what seems like a serious memoir and turns it into being too cute by half. But that's fine, because so is the writing--so many tortured metaphors, so many too-cute turns of phrases, it read like an extended New Yorker piece. When she's writing about her family and history, it's engaging. I had such high hopes, given the reviews I'd read and the accolades this book is getting. But...wow, no. First, it's written as a letter to her non-existent child, which is a completely unearned gimmick that takes what seems like a serious memoir and turns it into being too cute by half. But that's fine, because so is the writing--so many tortured metaphors, so many too-cute turns of phrases, it read like an extended New Yorker piece. When she's writing about her family and history, it's engaging. Any attempt at linking them to larger society falls flat, especially if you look at it even the least bit sideways. On one page, her rural (twenty miles outside a major city) family are poets, brilliant folk despite their lack of formal education, etc. Two pages later, they are not to be held responsible for how they vote and how those votes destroy their own society, because they are simple folk who fell for marketing and how can it be their fault? Perhaps it is my own extended family, who situationally has a lot in common with hers, but otherwise so little. Perhaps it's my own survivor's guilt over having Got Out, and how I view that versus how she does. Perhaps it is having lived all over the US and thus seeing through the ugly dichotomies she tries to draw in society. Whatever combination, basically every sociological argument in this book fell completely flat. And then there's that too-cute-by-half gimmick wrapped around it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn Crupi

    If you’re thinking of writing your memoir about class and poverty to your not-yet-born/never-to-be-born daughter ’August’ my advice is – don’t. It’s weird and unneccessarily distracting.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Laurie's Lit Picks

    For those of you who loved My Name is Lucy Barton, or Nickled and Dimed, or Hillbilly Elegy, you will need to add this book to your TBR pile. Debut author Sarah Smarsh chronicles her life, and generations of her family, as they try and survive living and toiling in Kansas during the past century. The difference in this story for me was the fact that it is told from a female perspective, as well as focusing on the matriarchal struggles of generations of teenage motherhood, abusive marriages, and For those of you who loved My Name is Lucy Barton, or Nickled and Dimed, or Hillbilly Elegy, you will need to add this book to your TBR pile. Debut author Sarah Smarsh chronicles her life, and generations of her family, as they try and survive living and toiling in Kansas during the past century. The difference in this story for me was the fact that it is told from a female perspective, as well as focusing on the matriarchal struggles of generations of teenage motherhood, abusive marriages, and the lack of education. The idea that one can pull oneself up by the bootstraps is turned upside down when one does not even own any boots. This is an engrossing book that I read voraciously in just 24 hours, unable to put it down, unable to relate in many ways, and also seeing many of my former students in her stories. I wish I had known years ago what I have spent the last few years learning: that the chance of skin color, economic class, and geography has more to do with a person's ability to 'make it' than just about anything else. Yes, there are those anomalies, the poor kid who hits it big like Andrew Carnegie, but they are fewer and fewer than in years past. This book will provide any book club with some provocative conversation and food for thought in our own communities.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    This book is so timely for our moment that it is almost hard to believe that the author began working on it more than a decade ago. Beautifully told, this memoir chronicles one family's life and times in Kansas as wheat farmers, trying to find their own American dream in a world where their true options were very limited. Class is such a no-no for American discourse, but these kinds of stories remind us why this must change. I found I had difficulty connecting fully with this book, but this is d This book is so timely for our moment that it is almost hard to believe that the author began working on it more than a decade ago. Beautifully told, this memoir chronicles one family's life and times in Kansas as wheat farmers, trying to find their own American dream in a world where their true options were very limited. Class is such a no-no for American discourse, but these kinds of stories remind us why this must change. I found I had difficulty connecting fully with this book, but this is definitely a case of YMMV- ultimately, it was a book I respected more than I loved, but I'm glad I had a chance to read it

  27. 4 out of 5

    Scribe Publications

    You might think that a book about growing up on a poor Kansas farm would qualify as ‘sociology,’ and Heartland certainly does … But this book is so much more than even the best sociology. It is poetry — of the wind and snow, the two-lane roads running through the wheat, the summer nights when work-drained families drink and dance under the prairie sky. Barbara Ehrenreich, Author of Nickel and Dimed Sarah Smarsh is one of America’s foremost writers on class. Heartland is about an impossible dream f You might think that a book about growing up on a poor Kansas farm would qualify as ‘sociology,’ and Heartland certainly does … But this book is so much more than even the best sociology. It is poetry — of the wind and snow, the two-lane roads running through the wheat, the summer nights when work-drained families drink and dance under the prairie sky. Barbara Ehrenreich, Author of Nickel and Dimed Sarah Smarsh is one of America’s foremost writers on class. Heartland is about an impossible dream for anyone born into poverty — a leap up in class, doubly hard for a woman. Smarsh’s journey from a little girl into adulthood in Kansas speaks to tens of thousands of girls now growing up poor in what so many dismiss as ‘flyover country.’ Heartland offers a fresh and riveting perspective on the middle of the nation all too often told through the prism of men. Dale Maharidge, Author of Pulitzer-Prize-Winning And Their Children After Them Sarah Smarsh — tough-minded and rough-hewn — draws us into the real lives of her family, barely making it out there on the American plains. There’s not a false note. Smarsh, as a writer, is Authentic with a capital A … This is just what the world needs to hear. George Hodgman, Author of Bettyville [A] powerful message of class bias ... A potent social and economic message [is] embedded within an affecting memoir. Kirkus, Starred Review Her project is shot through with compassion and pride for the screwed-over working class, even while narrating her emergence from it. Vulture [A] memoir for our times. Medium A poignant look at growing up in a town 30 miles from the nearest city; learning the value and satisfaction of hard, blue-collar work, and then learning that the rest of the country see that work as something to be pitied; watching her young mother's frustration with living at the “dangerous crossroads of gender and poverty” and understanding that such a fate might be hers, too. This idea is the thread that Smarsh so gracefully weaves throughout the narrative; she addresses the hypothetical child she might or might not eventually have and in doing so addresses all that the next generation Middle Americans living in poverty will face. Buzzfeed The difficulty of transcending poverty is the message behind this personal history of growing up in the dusty farmlands of Kansas, where “nothing was more painful ... than true things being denied” ... The takeaway? The working poor don't need our pity; they need to be heard above the din of cliché and without so-called expert interpretation. Smarsh's family are expert enough to correct any misunderstandings about their lives. Oprah.com Sarah Smarsh looks at class divides in the United States while sharing her own story of growing up in poverty before ultimately becoming a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Her memoir doesn't just focus on her own story; it also examines how multiple generations of her family were affected by economic policies and systems. Stephanie Topacio Long, Bustle If you're working towards a deeper understanding of our ruptured country, then Sarah Smarsh's memoir and examination of poverty in the American heartland is an essential read. Smarsh chronicles her childhood on the poverty line in Kansas in the '80s and '90s, and the marginalization of people based on their income. When did earning less mean a person was worth less? Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29 Blending memoir and reportage, a devastating and smart examination of class and the working poor in America, particularly the rural working poor. An excellent portrait of an often overlooked group. Jaime Herndon, BookRiot Candid and courageous ... Smarsh's raw and intimate narrative exposes a country of economic inequality that has failed its children. Publishers Weekly, starred review Journalist Smarsh uses her background growing up in rural Kansas to illustrate the economic plight of the rural working poor … Will appeal to readers who enjoy memoirs and to sociologists. While Smarsh ends on a hopeful note, she offers a searing indictment of how the poor are viewed and treated in this country. Caren Nichter, Library Journal ‘“Class is an illusion with real consequences”, Smarsh writes in this candid and courageous memoir of growing up in a family of working-class farmers in Kansas during the 1980s and ’90s … Smarsh’s raw and intimate narrative exposes a country of economic inequality that "has failed its children. Publishers Weekly Growing up as one of the working poor has become a familiar theme of memoirs of late, but this book is more than a female-authored Hillbilly Elegy (2016). Smarsh employs an unusual and effective technique, throughout the book addressing her daughter, who does not, in reality, exist. Rather, she's the future that seemed destined for Smarsh, the same future that had been destined for and realised by all the women in her family … Elucidating reading on the challenges many face in getting ahead. Joan Curbow, Booklist A deeply humane memoir with crackles of clarifying insight, Heartland is one of a growing number of important works … that together merit their own section in nonfiction aisles across the country: America’s postindustrial decline. Or, perhaps, simply: class. Francesca Mari, The New York Times Book Review Her book is smart, nuanced and atmospheric … In Heartland, Smarsh powerfully talks back to a world that mostly told her and her family they were disposable. Maureen Corrigan, NPR Heartland is her map of home, drawn with loving hands and tender words. This is the nation’s class divide brought into sharp relief through personal history … [A] welcome interruption in the national silence that hangs over the lives of the poor and a repudiation of the culture of shame that swamps people who deserve better. Elizabeth Catte, The Washington Post The book is a personal, decades-long story of America’s coordinated assault on its underclass … This is a tough, no-nonsense woman telling truth, and telling it hard ... The strongest element of Heartland, then, is its unabashed womanliness. At a time of national reckoning about endemic misogyny, Heartland does some serious feminist consciousness raising. Leah Hampton, Los Angeles Review In her sharply-observed, big-hearted memoir, Heartland, Smarsh chronicles the human toll of inequality, her own childhood a case study … [T]here’s an emotional power that comes through, a resonance that keeps readers focused on the weight and importance of Smarsh’s project. Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe Part memories, part economic analysis, part sociological treatise, Heartland ties together various threads of American society of the last 40 years ... Smarsh’s book is persuasive not only for the facts she marshals, but also because of the way she expresses it. Dale Singer, St. Louis Post-Dispatch This is a provocative, well-researched book for our times. … a difficult, but illuminating, book for these class-riven times. Kim Ode, Minneapolis Star Tribune Smarsh’s Heartland is a book we need: an observant, affectionate portrait of working-class America that possesses the power to resonate with readers of all classes. Anita Felicelli, San Francisco Chronicle Something about Sarah Smarsh’s writing makes you light up inside. You feel her joy and grief, fury and hope ... That is how I felt reading Smarsh’s book: as if the world could wait until I got to the end. Smarsh’s book belongs with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy as a volume with a transformative vision—a message for a blind and uncaring America, which needs to wake up. Hopefully we will not just open our eyes. Hopefully we will also change. The American Conservative Combining heartfelt memoir with eye-opening social commentary, Smarsh braids together the stories of four generations of her rural red-state family. People In a memoir written with loving candor, the daughter of generations of serially impoverished Kansas wheat farmers and working-poor single mothers chronicles a family’s unshakeable belief in the American dream and explains why it couldn't help but fail them. Ms. Magazine Smarsh’s book, a soul-baring meditation on poverty and class in America, tells the stories of her family’s wounded women, their farming men and her own wrenching choice to snap the three-generation cycle of teenage motherhood into which she was born ... Her moving memoir can be seen as the female, Great Plains flip side to 2016’s best-selling Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance: a loving yet unflinching look at the marginalized people who grow America’s food, build its houses and airplanes but never seem to share fully in its prosperity. New York Post Smarsh seamlessly interweaves [her family’s] tales with her own experiences and the political happenings of the day to tell a story that feels complete, honest and often poetic ... Heartland shines brightest in moments like these, when colorful anecdotes bring childhood memories vividly to life. Beyond their entertainment value, these stories flesh out nuanced characters in complex situations, dispelling stereotypes about the working class. Smarsh bookends these engaging tales with social commentary and historical information ... Heartland draws its strength from its storytelling and authority from its context and commentary. Texas Observer An important, timely work that details a family, a landscape, and a country that has changed dramatically since Smarsh’s birth in 1980. Heartland puts a very human face on the issue of economic inequality while also serving as an outstretched hand of sorts across the economic divide, seeking to connect readers from all economic backgrounds through a shared American story. Iowa City Gazette Heartland is an important book for this moment ... Smarsh emerges as a writer, most potently, in her vivid encounters with the ironies of working-class life — her reflections on what it means to live poor can turn startlingly poetic. EntertainmentWeekly.com You might have read Sarah Smarsh’s viral New York Times op-ed, which deconstructed the myth of the “aggrieved laborer: male, Caucasian, conservative, racist, sexist” with reference to the experiences and opinions of her working-class father. In this memoir, she fully explores the impact of poverty on her family. Elle.com Startlingly vivid ... an absorbing, important work in a country that needs to know more about itself. Christian Science Monitor Searing, timely and blazingly eloquent, Heartland challenges readers to look beyond tired stereotypes of the rural Midwest and is a testament to the value (on many levels) of “flyover country”. Shelf Awareness Heartland offers an excellent example of narrative journalism, writing which relies both on well-researched, well-presented factual information and exceptional storytelling. But additionally, Smarsh employed a wholly unique device throughout the book to firmly pull readers into what is, at times, a very intimate retelling. Susanna Baird, Spine Magazine Throughout the book Smarsh directly addresses her unborn child and while this unique framing device might have seemed contrived were it handled by a lesser writer, Smarsh’s prose is extraordinarily beautiful, evocative and unsentimental, and framing the book in this way reveals unique insights into gender, the body and poverty … [Heartland] offers a more nuanced analysis of gender, race, and class within the power structures of American politics and culture. Kara Nicholson, Readings Reading Sarah Smarsh’s memoir, Heartland, I find myself agreeing with nearly every piece of social commentary she writes … She describes the way post-Reagan neoliberalism, followed by all presidents since, has destroyed a workable system of social welfare and made education and healthcare less affordable, while promoting the myth that the poor are poor only because they are either stupid or lazy. Listener

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    "Dear August, I heard a voice unlike the ones in my house or on the news that told me my place in the world. It was your voice: a quiet and constant presence, felt more often than heard." And so begins the beautiful "memoir" that Sarah Smarsh wrote about growing up in rural Kansas in poverty. This book is more than a memoir though (which is why I put the word in quotes previously) - it's a story - a telling of a way of life to her "daughter" August who she always felt as a presence in her life, "Dear August, I heard a voice unlike the ones in my house or on the news that told me my place in the world. It was your voice: a quiet and constant presence, felt more often than heard." And so begins the beautiful "memoir" that Sarah Smarsh wrote about growing up in rural Kansas in poverty. This book is more than a memoir though (which is why I put the word in quotes previously) - it's a story - a telling of a way of life to her "daughter" August who she always felt as a presence in her life, but never got to actually meet in person. (Some might call August an imaginary friend, but it's clear as the reader listens to the story that she truly is a daughter). In the way that you would sit future generations down and tell stories about a family's history and way of life, this book tells the tale. Smarsh works in explanations of cultural and societal events that shaped her upbringing - both because they resonated with her and because things were happening that never "reached" her corner of the world. Fans of JD Vance's Hillbilly Elegy will love this book - but this is a beautiful book that also stands alone on its own merit. I bring up Hillbilly Elegy because of the huge fan base that one built - and this book deserves its own similar fan base. This book is the first book by Sarah Smarsh that I've read, but it won't be the last.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mainlinebooker

    Being a linear person, I found it hard to focus on thematic issues versus chronological time.This, however, was not a huge detraction from this earnest and engaging story of growing up in in heartbeat of Kansas, moving more than 20 times in her childhood, and descending rom a long list of teenage mothers. She clearly delineates how economic circumstances of the area helped shape the value that society ascribed to them. However, this was a story about love as well. How a family shaped by hardwork Being a linear person, I found it hard to focus on thematic issues versus chronological time.This, however, was not a huge detraction from this earnest and engaging story of growing up in in heartbeat of Kansas, moving more than 20 times in her childhood, and descending rom a long list of teenage mothers. She clearly delineates how economic circumstances of the area helped shape the value that society ascribed to them. However, this was a story about love as well. How a family shaped by hardworking parents and grandparents colored her fierce devotion to work energetically ,rise above her situation and cause her to reflect on the factors that separate the rural urban chasm. Not as fierce as the memoir Educated, but sociologically stronger.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    The framing device of this book drove me insane. Smarsh is a good writer and I enjoyed reading her take on American history (politics in particular) through her and her families’ worldview. A few of her extended family members could have been cut; they all seemed to follow the same life path, and the longer I got in the book, the less I cared for them. There is very little devoted to the author’s time at college and post-college, which was disappointing and could have made for a more compelling The framing device of this book drove me insane. Smarsh is a good writer and I enjoyed reading her take on American history (politics in particular) through her and her families’ worldview. A few of her extended family members could have been cut; they all seemed to follow the same life path, and the longer I got in the book, the less I cared for them. There is very little devoted to the author’s time at college and post-college, which was disappointing and could have made for a more compelling narrative. 3/5

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