Sarah Smarsh’s Heartland is a telling memoir about growing up in a working-poor family in and just outside of Wichita, Kansas during the 80s and 90s. It’s a piece that is built on powerful storytelling, and a unique voice in which the writer addresses her future daughter throughout the narrative. She shares the stories of her childhood: the moves, the countless schools, the money struggles, but also the blessings of farm and family. Heartland is a strong indictment against classism and government negligence in the face of wealth inequality that is supported by the stories of her family’s poverty and the research she expertly weaves throughout.
At the heart of her argument is the refutation of the myth that meritocracy will always produce a healthy middle class. The obstacles to stability she discusses are many: medical care, rural and urban imbalance, the job market, housing, gender, and race. All these barriers are compounded by the stigma brought on by being working class white (for her family). She goes on to stress that pride and shame create an unwieldy struggle as people try to get a leg up in our country.
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.
5 out of 5 stars
Releases on September 18th
Thank you to NetGalley, Scribner Books, and Sarah Smarsh for an advanced copy for review.