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

by Sarah Smarsh

Paperback, 2019




Scribner (2019), Edition: Reprint, 320 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML:*Finalist for the National Book Award* *Finalist for the Kirkus Prize* *Instant New York Times Bestseller* *Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, New York Post, BuzzFeed, Shelf Awareness, Bustle, and Publishers Weekly* An essential read for our times: an eye-opening memoir of working-class poverty in America that will deepen our understanding of the ways in which class shapes our country and "a deeply humane memoir that crackles with clarifying insight".* Sarah 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 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. During Sarah's turbulent childhood in Kansas in the 1980s and 1990s, she enjoyed the freedom of a country childhood, but observed the painful challenges of the poverty around her; untreated medical conditions for lack of insurance or consistent care, unsafe job conditions, abusive relationships, and limited resources and information that would provide for the upward mobility that is the American Dream. By telling the story of her life and the lives of the people she loves with clarity and precision but without judgement, Smarsh challenges us to look more closely at the class divide in our country. Beautifully written, in a distinctive voice, Heartland combines personal narrative with powerful analysis and cultural commentary, challenging the myths about people thought to be less because they earn less. "Heartland is one of a growing number of important works??including Matthew Desmond's Evicted and Amy Goldstein's Janesville??that together merit their own section in nonfiction aisles across the country: America's postindustrial decline...Smarsh shows how the false promise of the 'American dream' was used to subjugate the poor. It's a powerful mantra" *(The New York Times Book Review)… (more)


½ (147 ratings; 3.9)

Media reviews

The book is a personal, decades-long story of America’s coordinated assault on its underclass.... Thanks to persistent false narratives about poverty, families like mine and Smarsh’s — perhaps yours too — wasted generations believing in “trickle down” economics, leaving us “standing
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outside with our mouths open praying for money to rain.” Ultimately, we concluded that “the American Dream has a price tag on it,” and “the poorer you are, the higher the price.”
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3 more
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 ... she uses minute detail to get
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across the tenuous state of the lives of her family ... in her silent speeches to a never-born child, Smarsh spells out clearly what she has gained, what she has had to leave behind and the cost for both.
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...the book circumambulates several major themes: body, land, shame. Smarsh describes the toll of labor on those who have no choice but to do it — a work force priced out of health insurance by its privatization. Neighbors are maimed by combines and the author’s father nearly dies from chemical
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poisoning a week into a job transporting used cleaning solvent. Women absorb their husbands’ frustrations, blow by blow. Meanwhile, big agribusinesses strangle the region’s family farms, leaving behind a brackish residue of shame — the shame of being poor and white.
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It is through education that Smarsh is able to avoid their fate; but while hers is a happy ending, she is still haunted by the fact that being poor is associated with being bad. Smarsh’s raw and intimate narrative exposes a country of economic inequality that “has failed its children.”

User reviews

LibraryThing member mcelhra
Heartland is Sarah Smarsh’s memoir of growing up in rural Kansas. Smarsh addresses her memoir to her unborn child. A child she was never pregnant with because she saw what her mother and other women in her family went through as teenage mothers and vowed that would never be her. Which is great
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but as a literary device it was a little weird and awkward. Thankfully, she doesn’t speak to her imaginary child too terribly often.

Heartland drives home that the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy is hogwash. Sometimes the deck is just too stacked and the cycle of poverty nearly impossible to break. Smarsh herself managed to get out but after reading about her family, one understands why they did not. Comparisons have been made to Hillbilly Elegy and they are definitely similar. However, if you can only read one, choose Heartland. Smarsh is a better writer (sorry JD!) and she has more insight into the class divide and her family’s circumstances.

I listed to the audiobook of Heartland, which Smarsh reads herself. She has a pleasant voice with just a hint of a Southern accent that made this book an enjoyable listen. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member c.archer
What a powerful read! This book really connected with me. I also was raised in the Midwest, a generation before Sarah, and am from humble roots. That is probably where our connection would end since unlike Sarah, I was raised in a stable family with loving parents who were able to provide what I
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needed-both physical and emotional. Still, I found myself appreciating and understanding the life she describes as her own.
It's not comfortable to read about the struggles and continually regretful decisions of people living in poverty, but I think it's so important in understanding their challenges and often hopeless mindsets. How startling it was to me that it might be easier to just move when things don't go as planned or hope comes only in the possibilities of a new location. Sarah's family moved countless times, repeatedly disrupting her life and schooling. Yet, Sarah helped me to appreciate and respect her family's attempts to make changes and keep trying. Life is bleak when there is little hope. This is something that those of us who haven't lived in true poverty can't understand. Unsurprisingly, it breaks many people. Sarah's people were bent, but not broken. Sarah herself, found an inner strength and rose above, breaking the ties that bound her family to poverty.
The style of Sarah's writing is unique and genuine. The book is written as a letter to her unconceived child; the spirit of a girl that she called August. She was determined to not make the same mistakes as the generations of women before her by having a child when she was still nearly a child herself, so she created an image this potential child of her youth. Throughout her childhood and early adulthood this image became quite real for her, and she used it as motivation to never have her since that would certainly continue the cycle of poverty. Sarah's inner strength and gift of intelligence, along with encouragement from select teachers along the way, blossomed slowly into a life with better opportunities than those of her ancestors. She writes in such an honest and open way of her experiences, creating a real feeling of what it was like for the reader. It is hard, but vital to our future to try to understand what the cycle of poverty is, in order to someday find a way to create change and hope for a better life.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this title. Most of all, I thank Sarah for having the courage to tell her family's story (with their blessing) in such a moving way. I thoroughly recommend this title to all.
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LibraryThing member strandbooks
I wanted to like Heartland so much more than I did. Although she started writing it 15 years ago, it feels like a response to A Hillbilly Elegy. Sarah Smarsh grew up in poverty from a long line of Kansas farmers. She is the first to not get pregnant as a teenager, and so she writes part of the book
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to the unborn daughter, August, who she did not have as a teenager. I found these dialogues to “August” distracting, forced and sometimes overly sappy.

Most of the book relays how difficult it was for her single mother, grandmother, aunts to have any stability as they married and divorced violent men. A couple of them had some stability in middle age with jobs in the county court or marrying a local journalist, but most times they were living out of motels, sharing a trailer with another family, or working the family farm until someone else needed the rooms more.

The most interesting part of the book was how Sarah was often discouraged from excelling at school. Very few of her relatives graduated high school so the fact that in elementary school she was selected for a gifted program was difficult for them. They were ashamed of their own lack of education and told her to not think herself “above her place.” She worked multiple jobs and applied for college without any support or discussion with her family.

Since I just finished Prairie Fires I picked up on the similarities towards government help 100 years later. In both books they perceived government help with laziness, but they worked multiple jobs at a time often with lots of physical labor. They would never be lumped with the “lazy” and do something so shameful as getting food stamps or assisted housing. Her best quote regarding her families beliefs “financially comfortable liberals may rest assured that their fortunes result from personal merit while generously insisting they be to 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.”
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LibraryThing member Twink
Sarah Smarsh's memoir, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, was written over the course of fifteen years.

Smarsh 'combed through public records, old newspaper, letters, photographs, and other archives to piece together a family history from the
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ill-documented chaos that poverty begets.'

Smarsh was born to a teenage mother on the plains of Kansas. Her birth was the next chapter in a story of teen mothers, domestic abuse, inter generational poverty and more. But is also a story of resilience, strength, tenacity and hope for something better.

Smarsh introduces us to the members of her family, with an honest and unadulterated voice. The emphasis is on the maternal members. I have to say, I was smitten by Grandma Betty. She is a force of nature, a rock to her family. Smarsh details her own family history, but also includes how government policies, programs and the economic climate over the years impact the working poor.

Smarsh has written Heartland with asides and ruminations to the child/daughter she will never have. (by choice). I did find this a bit hard to wrap my head around in the opening chapters. It continues throughout the book and although I understand she has broken the pattern and chosen not to raise another generation, it became a bit repetitive and lost it's initial impact.

As I read, I found myself nodding my head, as some of Smarsh's story is familiar to me - snippets of conversation, situations and hurdles to overcome. I always feel privileged to read a memoir, a telling of lives....

"With deepest reverence, thank you to my family for surviving, with humor and dignity, the difficulties that allowed this book to exist. When I asked for their blessing to tell our shared past, they bravely answered yes. Their reasons for standing behind my work, as they sometimes told me: Because it might help someone else, and because it is true."

Thank you Sarah Smarsh for sharing.
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LibraryThing member chrisblocker
Okay, I know it's right there in the title, but somehow I thought this was going to be more of a socio-political exploration of the lives of the working class, less a bunch of stories. Putting that aside, I'm not convinced that Heartland completely works as a memoir. The author jumps around, leaves
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portions of her story untold or keeps the details shrouded. These omissions distanced me. It's fine for an author to exclude any details from their work that they wish to exclude, but doing so may require some patchwork.

I know I'm echoing others by saying so, but the decision to address the book to an unborn daughter seemed awkward and needless. The same points about being a teenage mother living in poverty could've been made without the cloying and forced second-person narration that likely pushed away many readers.

Those readers who are from a similar place (politically, economically) may identify with Smarsh's narrative. Those far outside may be enlightened. As someone close (geographically), but on the outside (city dweller, anarchist), I was not all that engaged. Yet, despite my grumbles about narrative choices, there's ample evidence of great writing here. Had I come from a different place, I may have connected with this book more.
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LibraryThing member akblanchard
In Sarah Smarsh's insightful memoir Heartland, a relative of the author describes her early life of rural poverty and family chaos as a "sad circus". Smarsh shows how the many difficulties associated with working-class lives, including low education rates, substance abuse, lack of health care, and
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a pattern of teenage pregnancies and early marriages, have affected her own family. But the author also wants citified readers to forget the stereotypes of the rural poor as stupid or inbred and to recognize the practical intelligence and hard work of those who live close to the land. The author's trope of addressing her un-conceived daughter "August" throughout the narrative worked better than I thought it would. All in all, this is an important look at often misunderstood social and economic realities. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
Every person who believes that hard work alone will solve the poverty issue need to read this book. Living in rural Kansas the authors tells her story of what it is like to grow up poor and never catch up with expenses. The saying “It takes money to make money” is true. If you have only bills,
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you never make money. Excellent non-fiction book selection for a book club.
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LibraryThing member chasidar
I thought it was interesting but I hated the way it was structured - her talking to her not born child.
Also, I was left wanting to know what happened to the other members of her family in the end.
LibraryThing member froxgirl
Here's the woman's perspective of the territory claimed by Hillbilly Elergy. Although that story took place in the Appalachians and this is rural Kansas, it's all flyover country, to be avoided by coastal Americans. Smarsh is the scion of five generations of subsistence farmers, and was inspired at
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an early age to break the pervasive cycle of early pregnancy/non-profitable farming/alcoholism/domestic violence that infuses the matriarchy in which she is raised. Her motivation is not only escape, but love for an entity she grows inside herself, which she names August - a better self, not a child: “I loved us both so much that I made sure you were conceived only in my mind.”

The stories of her mother and father's mothers and fathers, and their mothers and fathers, are marinated in the concept so common to many Americans: don't get above yourself. And when getting above yourself means striving for a life better than the one your parents led, it's depressingly self-defeating. But Smarsh loves most of her relatives, and is never condescending in her recitation of the seemingly endless bad decisions that make hardscrabble lives even worse. She also does not shy from discussing white privilege, class, and race issues.

Quotes: “The defining feeling of my childhood was that of being told there wasn’t a problem when I knew damn well there was. If a person could go to work every day and still not be able to pay the bills, and the reason wasn’t racism, what less articulated problem was afoot? I wasn’t from a family or background anyone seemed to be rooting for. Our small town was almost entirely white, and in that context economics decided the social order. For my family, the advantage of our race was embedded into our existence but hard for us to perceive amid daily economic struggle.”

“Wealth and income inequality were nothing rare in global history. What was peculiar about the class system in the United States, though, is that for centuries we denied it existed. At every rung of the economic ladder, Americans believed that hard work and a little know-how were all a person needed to get ahead.”

“If you’re wild enough to enjoy it, poverty can contain a sort of freedom – no careers or properties to maintain, no community meetings or social status to be responsible to.”

“So much of childhood amounts to being awake in a grownup’s nightmare.”

“What it means to be “country” has changed in the few decades of my lifetime from an experience to a brand culture cultivated by conservative forces.”

“Receiving accolades for your academic work was an offense to grandmothers who had left school in tenth grade and were adverse to anyone thinking herself too good for where she came from.”

“No house is truly secure. The body is the only permanent home, and even that one comes with an eviction notice.”
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LibraryThing member Tytania
I can’t be objective about this book. It’s a memoir by someone born unwanted to an unwed teenage mother, who grew up in & around Wichita. I was born to an unwed teenage mother, and I spent a year or so in my late teens with the weirdest determination to move with my boyfriend from Staten Island
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to Wichita. Hence this book was like a weird mash-up of the kind of life I could have had, poor and disadvantaged, had I not been relinquished; and the life I briefly but badly wanted to have, canning vegetables in a farmhouse in Kansas.

So, that said, let’s try to be objective. It may seem at first blush that we have yet another GLASS CASTLE on our hands – look at my crazy childhood! Marvel at my wherewithal as I escape it! But this is one “growing up poor” memoir that is definitely different. Smarsh addresses the whole thing to “you” – “you” is the baby she never had; the unwanted, unwed pregnancy that would have sealed her fate, like that of her mother and grandmother before her, had she not made it her teenage life’s goal to graduate with a diploma in hand and no baby inside of her.

Furthermore, Smarsh doesn’t play her childhood for shock value. All of the main characters in her life are viewed with compassion. In fact, the book is more like HILLBILLY ELEGY than GLASS CASTLE; but HILLBILLY wasn’t political at all compared to this. Smarsh puts no blame whatsoever on any of her relatives for their actions; she blames everything on poverty, and poverty she blames on our flawed American system.

She has no policy prescriptions, and it’s not clear what she would advocate to fix things. Her relatives eschew handouts and help, and wouldn’t accept increased (or any) welfare payments if they were offered, so increasing traditional poverty relief programs won’t help. What Smarsh seems to want is an admission – from somewhere, somehow – that the American Dream is a hoax. Working hard DOESN’T help. And then, I guess, we take it from there?
I can see whence she gets this – by all accounts, her folks DID work hard, and DO work hard. I lost track of the number of truck stops opened by the females and jobs held down by her Dad. And I’m not seeing incapacitating addiction, other than by Dad’s new wife, or too many other horrendous life decisions; apart from too much husband-hopping and, of course, the unwanted pregnancies, these being where Smarsh lays the blame from Day 1, being one of them herself. Her family is Catholic, so I guess that’s why contraception is not mentioned even one time throughout the entire book that I can remember. (Smarsh stays unfertilized by choosing a boyfriend with no “physical desire” for her – she drops this strange fact at the end of the book, never having mentioned a boyfriend before, which was bizarre.) It is odd to me how Catholics can apparently take the no-contraception rule so incredibly seriously, but not pay any respect to certain other rules, such as, oh, say, the one about marriage vows.

As a writer, Smarsh occasionally gets repetitive, as well as coming off as whiny. A big plot point is her mother’s ambivalence toward her. She gives us very few actual examples, none of which is earth-shattering; though maybe I’m just inured to such things by the whole GLASS CASTLE genre. The narrative also does not seem directly chronological, and gets confusing. Apart from the names of her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, names of other relatives could get hard to keep straight, especially due to the overlapping ages of the generations due to the unplanned timing of pregnancies; but Smarsh does drop reminders reasonably often (“my young aunt”, etc.).

I wanted to return to this story again and again… maybe, in the end, mostly due to my personal reasons. I’m so happy I discovered it.
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LibraryThing member kcshankd
Oh my. Had heard of, read on plane back from Kansas on recommendation of Nancy Z - so good! Had I taken a non-fiction writing course instead of fiction at the Lawrence Arts Center way back when Smarsh would have been my instructor.

A wonderful Kansas and feminist story, firmly grounded in a dawning
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class awareness here in 2019.
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LibraryThing member MinaIsham
-- By middle of HEARTLAND I like Smarsh. Majority of people accept life they're dealt. Before age 40 Smarsh had written this well-researched memoir. She overcame an impoverished childhood spent living with relatives in rural Kansas as well as more urban areas. --
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
Initially I really liked listening to this book which is narrated by the author. As the book wore on, though, I found that it skipped around so much that I was confused about what happened in which order. It might have been easier to follow this book in print but you would still have to pay
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attention about who was living where and with whom.

The author grew up in Kansas to parents who got divorced when she was fairly young. Her mother was also a child of divorce and in her case her mother got married five times. Eventually Sarah's mother got married to a farmer which provided a stability that the author, her mother and her grandmother had lacked most of their lives. Sarah's father had grown up on a farm but he turned his hand to carpentry and wood working to make ends meet. Both Sarah's mother and father found new partners after their divorce but Sarah didn't really get along with her mother's boyfriend so she lived with her grandmother and her husband until she went away to school. A unique twist to this memoir is that the author tells it to her unborn child. Unborn as in will never be born because Sarah decided that she could not bring another child into poverty. Instead she became a writer and professor. She escaped the trap of poverty that the generations before had been sucked in by. This book tells some hard truths about being in the working poor and for that reason it is an important book.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
Nothing really wrong with the book, but I just couldn't get into it. It is a memoir of growing up in Kansas in a divorced and impoverish farm-oriented family. I'm in a "reading funk" at the moment so I might enjoy it some other time. Abandoned.
LibraryThing member jonerthon
This might be categorized as the lesser known "Educated," but it is pretty different. The author comes from a poor Kansas family, and there is much focus on the women of the family. Aside from a standard memoir, she focuses on what family traditions she does and doesn't choose to keep, and where
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she does and doesn't have a choice because ... not everyone in our country gets choices. The style of narrating to a future child kept the perspective unique for me.

(Belated note: Barack Obama included this on his favorite 2019 books list, perhaps helped by the common Kansas roots, and that will inevitably increase its profile).
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LibraryThing member dele2451
The most beautifully written memoir I've read about childhood poverty since Frank McCourt's earlier works. I lived in rural Kansas for a good chunk of my childhood and she captures the spirit and the challenges of that unique, often overlooked, place very well. Recommended reading for everyone,
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especially those involved in family law, education, income parity, banking, and domestic policy.
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
Very few memoirs illicit much interest from me. They are usually ego enhancers for the author and full of bias. This one definitely has a point of view but it is well earned objectively based on the author's experiences growing up poor in rural Kansas. Virtually all the young women in her
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experience end up pregnant as teens and end up at the mercy of unkind men. At many times she speaks to the baby girl she never had. This is a powerful memoir that makes me have more respect for those without means.
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LibraryThing member JennyNau10
I could relate to much of this story and think that its a book worth reading. Not all of rural America is hooked on drugs, there is a huge amount of people trapped in the lifestyle of poverty- by their heritage and circumstances.
LibraryThing member addunn3
For anyone seeking to under the current political environment, this book is essential reading.
LibraryThing member FormerEnglishTeacher
I listened to this book while doing my 30-minute walk on the treadmill. Although I enjoyed it, especially because of the superb writing, I did find the continuity and the multi-generational names a bit hard to follow at times. I also thought the use of the character August was a bit gimmicky until
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I heard Smarsh’s ending where the character proved to be very effective and touching. “Heartland” is a beautiful story, often hard to read (in my case listen to), but whose message is important, especially in these years of recovery from Trump.
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LibraryThing member JulieStielstra
Maybe a 2.75. This is a serious, thoughtful, clear-eyed and intimate look at people who have been largely forgotten, ignored, misunderstood and misled: poor, rural whites in a "flyover" state. These are Smarsh's family, their lives and communities, where she grew up in south central Kansas. I've
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spent a lot of time in that part of the country: I've driven US 54 many times, camped and hiked at the Kingman state fishing lake, visited graves outside Admire, had a couple of short stories published set in this region. I recognize Smarsh's grandfather Arnie in our neighbor who stomps up the drive in shit-smeared sneakers and sweat-stained hat, who has reset our windmill pump and runs a few cows on our little acreage to keep the weeds down for us. But, Lord, what a hard life it can be. Especially for the women. Teenaged moms are almost the norm, though girls may be warned "You don't want to get tied down, you know what I mean?" Everyone works multiple jobs: farming and construction, waitressing and weighing wheat at the grain elevator, babysitting and cosmetic sales. These people *work*. And may be only a truck breakdown away from insolvency. They move. All the time. Marriages, divorces, abuse, lost jobs; the grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, kids... they pack up and relocate into and out of each other's houses as they can or must. They are pretty much all addicted to something: alcohol, cigarettes, pills; depression and mental instability abound. Smarsh's indomitable grandmother Betty's mother once refuses her a loan of $75 to escape a brutally abusive husband, saying "You made your bed, now you lay on it." Betty decides then and there that if anyone ever asks her for help, she will give it. And she does. Smarsh also writes movingly of her gentle, atypically tender father: he was the one who brushed her hair for her before school, who left little poems for her, who ends up severely depressed and victim of a gambling problem, loyal to a second wife with a devastating pill habit. Smarsh decides early on that as much as she loves all these people and the Kansas prairie and the smell of the farm on a November night, she will not stay. And she doesn't. But this book is much less about her own struggles and wayfinding as it is a heartfelt look at these people and this life, and how circumscribed their options are. She notes somewhat bitterly that when she manages to get a scholarship to the University of Kansas intended for low-income, minority, first-generation students, the few other white students joke that they are the "white trash" recipients.

In spite of all the intensely personal, wrenching portraits Smarsh paints, the book may not grab as it should. It is unstructured, more than a bit chaotic. Her mother is "Mom" on one page, and "Jeannie" on another. The extended cast of grandparents, great-grandparents, sons, daughters, grandkids, nieces, cousins, nephews, in-laws, and a multitude of exes is confusing. She jumps back and forth in time, place, and family arrangements; incidents are told more than once. Perhaps this is deliberate, to evoke the tremendously chaotic and unpredictable leaps their lives make. But it leaves a sympathetic reader scratching her head: wait, didn't we hear that already? WHICH husband is it that took Betty's son from her? Oh, that's right, Dorothy is Betty's mother, the great-grandmother...but who's "Pud" again? It takes some perseverance. Finally, Smarsh hangs the entire book on the hook of a soliloquy directed to "you," a daughter she names August, who was never conceived or borne. She tells the stories of her embattled youth to this child, explaining to her: "This is why I never had you." It is irregularly invoked, and can tip into something that feels contrived and even maudlin. If this was the vision that kept Smarsh out of the life she fought long and hard to escape, more power to her. But it doesn't quite work as a literary device.

An important tale, not told well enough. But people should read it anyway.
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LibraryThing member arosoff
I feel slightly traitorous because this got such good reviews. I wish I could put it down to just not clicking, but this book came short of working for me. At times, when she just lets herself talk about her family, especially the women in it, Heartland soars. The problem is when it doesn't. She's
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used an awkward framing device--writing the book as a letter to the child she didn't and will never have. The big problem is that she wants her book to be more than a memoir, but an insight into the type of rural poverty she came from. She's too conscious of it, and as a result, too often she tells rather than shows. Rather than letting the narrative teach the lesson, she jumps in to explain it or to teach a mini-lesson--not just background history such as the farm crisis of the 1980s, but explanations of specific events.

Sarah Smarsh is a talented writer, and her family story is interesting; but the memoir isn't as good as it could have been.
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LibraryThing member debs4jc
The author describes her struggles growing up (mostly) on a farm outside of Wichita. Like many lower income families, she did move around quite a bit, but the farmhouse that her grandmother lived in was home base. Her family was always just barely making it, and she reflects on how they interacted
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with society and how various government policies contributed to their situation. She reflects on how her family supposedly had a lot of advantages but various factors can keep even white skinned people from "making it".
I did find the backstory and story of the author's family and upbringing interesting enough. The personal stories and wondering how she would come out this where she is today kept me reading. But her commentary seemed to interfere with the story and that part of the narrative was not what I enjoyed reading the most - regardless of whether or not I agreed with her train of thought. Still, being from Kansas I can see where some would find this a helpful reflection on the state of life, especially it becomes harder and harder for farmers or blue collar workers to make ends meet. Those interested in commentary more that personal story might enjoy this more.
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LibraryThing member steve02476
Powerful and affecting memoir of growing up poor in rural Kansas. I wish the editing had been better, some of it seemed awkward.
LibraryThing member dmtrader
I bought this book because it was a National Book Award finalist, and was included in NPR's "Best Books of 2018."

It's a memoir in the style of "Hillbilly Elegy;" a woman overcomes her difficult and impoverished upbringing in the Plains States to become a successful writer and evolved individual.
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It's more of a family history; an unflattering story told here, then another unflattering story told there. Very similar to "Hillbilly Elegy" (which I did not enjoy reading either).

It is written as if told to an unborn ( even unconceived) child the author might have had (could have had) as a teen. I initially thought this was an imaginative and interesting angle, but honestly this takes up only a small portion of the book. IMHO she might have developed this angle further, or just left it out entirely.
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National Book Award (Finalist — Nonfiction — 2018)
Kirkus Prize (Finalist — Nonfiction — 2018)
Audie Award (Finalist — Non-Fiction — 2019)
Indies Choice Book Award (Honor Book — 2019)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

320 p.; 8.38 inches


1501133101 / 9781501133107
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