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Hillbilly elegy : a memoir of a family and culture in crisis
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New York Times Review
HILLBILLY ELEGY: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance. (Harper, $16.99.) Vance uses the lens of his childhood to analyze the despair and stagnation of his white working-class America. He doesn't hesitate to blame Appalachian culture, which he says "increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it," but offers a compassionate primer on the struggles of the white underclass. COMPASS, by Mathias Énard. Translated by Charlotte Mandeli. (New Directions, $18.95.) The narrator, a Viennese musicologist dying of an unknown illness, spends a sleepless night dreaming of his travels to the Levant; the careers and work of other scholars of the East he has known; and his great love. The novel won the Goncourt, France's most prestigious literary prize, in 2015. MERCIES IN DISGUISE: A Story of Hope, a Family's Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them, by Gina Kolata. (St. Martin's, $16.99.) Kolata, a science reporter for The Times, follows members of the Baxley family, who were blindsided after learning their father had a rare neurodegenerative disorder. As they grapple with their own risk, the story poses a wrenching question: Would you want to know if you carried a fatal genetic mutation? SWIMMER AMONG THE STARS: Stories, by Kanishk Tharoor. (Picador, $16.) In tales that leap across time and space, Tharoor considers the tensions of cultural preservation and loss, and the burdens of power. A princess's gesture has profound consequences for an elephant; diplomats orbiting Earth must choose a new headquarters for the United Nations. And in the title story, ethnographers pay a visit to the last speaker of a language, who tries to invent words for modern terms: astronaut, tractor, prime minister. JANE AUSTEN: The Secret Radical, by Helena Kelly. (Vintage, $17.) In the 200 years since her death, Austen has remained categorically misunderstood, and deserves to be read with an eye to Britain's politics of the time, Kelly argues. She is particularly convincing on the Austen family's designs to neutralize Jane's image over the decades; as our reviewer, John Sutherland, put it, "Colin Firth's wet shirt is hung out to dry." GIRL IN SNOW, by Danya Kukafka. (Simon & Schuster, $16.) After the murder of a beautiful teenager, Lucinda Hayes, three misfit characters offer clues to the crime: the outcast who loved - and stalked - Lucinda; a classmate who couldn't stand her; and even the police officer investigating the case, with a personal connection to a leading suspect. This thrilling debut novel has strains of "Twin Peaks."
Library Journal Review
Growing up in Appalachia may leave a person open to harsh criticism and stereotype, yet Vance delves into his childhood and upbringing to make a clear distinction between perception and reality. Born in Kentucky and shuffling among homes in Ohio, the author ended the cycle of poverty, abuse, and drug use after becoming a U.S. Marine and Yale Law School graduate. His memoir is less about his triumph and more about exposing the gritty truth of how a culture fell into ruin. Using examples from his own life with references to articles and studies throughout, Vance's intent is to show that what was once the fulfillment of the American Dream-moving to the Rust Belt for a better life-has now left families in peril. His plea is not for sympathy but for understanding. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, this memoir is akin to investigative journalism. While some characters seem too caricaturelike, it is often those terrifyingly authentic traits that make people memorable. Vance is careful to point out that this is his recollection of events; not everyone is painted in a positive light. -VERDICT A quick and engaging read, this book is well suited to anyone interested in a study of modern America, as Vance's assertions about Appalachia are far more reaching.-Kaitlin Malixi, formerly at Virginia Beach P.L. © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
In this compelling hybrid of memoir and sociological analysis, Vance digs deep into his upbringing in the hills of Jackson, Ky., and the suburban enclave of Middletown, Ohio. He chronicles with affection-and raw candor-the foibles, shortcomings, and virtues of his family and their own attempts to live their lives as working-class people in a middle-class world. Readers get to know his tough-as-nails grandmother, Mawmaw, who almost killed a man when she was 12 in Jackson, but who has to live among the sewing circles of Middletown. Her love for children, and for her grandson in particular, fuels her dream to become a children's attorney. When Vance finishes high school, he's not ready to head off to Ohio State, so Vance joins the Marines, completes a tour of duty in Iraq, and returns home with a surer sense of what he wants out of life and how to get it. He eventually enrolls in Yale Law School and becomes a successful lawyer, doggedly reflecting on the keys to his own success-family and community-and the ways they might help him understand the issues at stake in social policies today. Vance observes that hillbillies like himself are helped not by government policy but by community that empowers them and extended family who encourages them to take control of their own destinies. Vance's dynamic memoir takes a serious look at class. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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