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

Large Print - 2018
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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 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. "--
Published: Waterville :, Thorndike Press, A part of Gale, a Cengage Company ,, 2018.
ISBN: 9781432859565
Branch Call Number: 978.1033 SMA
Characteristics: 441 pages (large print) ;,23 cm


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Jun 25, 2019

Blah, blah, blah.....lots of stereotypes.....woe is me mentality....glad she finally rose above her circumstances. She could have used the book as a success story about her life and not trying to blame her upbringing on the government.

Jun 06, 2019

If you ever want to escape poverty and find a well paying job and carreer then you leave where you are are and recieve the education you need for the job, don't remain poor, don't allow your circomstances to overcome you ever. you can rise above all of it. I read about the book and all I read was a woman that blamed her family for her situation, which she could have changed anyway she could.

May 19, 2019

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, you never make money. Excellent non-fiction book selection for a book club.

May 03, 2019

Heartland was repetitive and its non-linear approach left me lost at times. Other recent memoirs on generational poverty (Maid & Educated for starters) came across more genuine. Nonetheless, enjoyed the descriptions of rural small town Kansas.

IndyPL_MeganF Apr 11, 2019

This is a honest and enlightening memoir that illustrates America's contempt towards the financially disadvantage, but I thought the relationship with her unborn child just a little awkward.

Mar 28, 2019

Author Smarsh writes a memoir of growing up in Wichita, Kansas, and farm country west of it in the 1980s and 1990s. She was child of generations of young women having children very young, something she vowed would not happen to her.

A bit disjointed and repetitive reading as chapters sometimes seemed designed as stand-alone articles. I’d heard Smarsh interviewed and as a Kansan by birth had my interest sparked. Applaud her journey; found some of her broader perspectives questionable although I wouldn’t deny their truth for her. All in all, similar to 'Hillbilly Elegy,' child in dysfunctional environment persists.

IndyPL_LindsayH Mar 09, 2019

Heartland is a tremendous account of what it`s like to grow up white and poor in rural middle America. Sarah Smarsh fought her whole life to break the cycle of poverty her family was stuck in for generations. Her memoir is unique in that she is writing it as a testimony to her future unborn child. Her story shows you another side of poverty that is often overlooked.

Mar 02, 2019

Heartland is well worth reading. For those of us who were fortunate enough to be raised in families that were not poor, this book manages to convey not only the facts of living in poverty, but what it feels like to be poor. It is not always the happiest book, but it is compelling. And it is something we should all know and understand.

I think this book is better written and much more powerful than Hillbilly Elegy. Hillbilly Elegy is better known, maybe because it was written by a man. I appreciated hearing a woman’s perspective on poverty, and a woman’s perspective about the strengths and weaknesses of the men and women in her family. The people in Sarah’s family have flaws (as do we all), but I appreciated that she described their successes and their positive attributes as well as their failures and problems.

Sarah is part of the fifth generation of a family of Kansas wheat farmers on her father’s side and the daughter of generations of teen mothers on her mother’s side. It Is not an easy life. Parts of this book are heart-rending. No matter how hard people work, they are chronically insecure financially. They can not seek health care when they need it because they can not afford it, so they have health issues that are never resolved. They do not seek public assistance even when they qualify, because they have internalized society’s message that it is shameful to accept government assistance. They feel like failures because they think they should be able to succeed on their own, and they do not realize the system is stacked against them. There are constant humiliations, large and small.

Sarah tells her own story, but she also shares the stories of her parents and grandparents, with their permission. She writes in the acknowledgments: “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 reason for standing behind my work, as they sometimes told me: Because it might help somebody else, and because it is true.”

Feb 02, 2019

It's not the most captivating read but if the reader lets go and drifts through the family members and the multiple towns and jobs the story becomes a whole experience - that of the Americans living in poverty with seemingly no way out. Smarsh has shown that our perspective must change and preconceived judgements must change in order for our country to be of any help. "I was in a poor girl's lining like a penny in a purse- not worth much, according to the economy, but kept in production." "Society's contempt for the poor becomes the poor person's contempt for herself."

Jan 24, 2019

A compelling memoir of growing up poor in rural Kansas--"flyover country." On her paternal side, Smarsh descends from generations of farmers who love the land in spite of how hard it is to work it. On her maternal side, she descends from generations of teen mothers, who because they're Catholic, always marry their babies' fathers. Domestic violence and serial divorce often follows, along with, in many cases, inability of parents to love their children. Mental illness is a problem, as is lack of health care and early mortality. Smarsh, whose own mother can't demonstrably love her, partly because she's brilliant and has given up too much too much to raise her and her younger brother. Fortunately, Smarsh's father isn't violent, and loves her, as does her "grandfather" Arnie. Smarsh makes up a daughter who she refuses to have, so that she can follow her own dream of learning and making something of herself. The extended family works very hard, often at multiple jobs, but has to move often (except for Arnie). Children, including Smarsh, therefore, often end up changing schools so often that learning is difficult. She, however, finds several teachers who encourage her, and ends up as the first in the family to go to college, ultimately becoming a journalist and professor. A thrilling book, from which I learned a lot. It would benefit from a family tree (sorry, I'm a genealogist) to keep the story straight. She does say in the prologue that for some people's safety, she's changed some names and merged a few minor characters. That may be why I got confused at times as who was who.

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Nov 16, 2018

the American Dream has. a price tag on it. The cost changes depending on where you're born and to whom. . .but the poorer you are the higher the price.,.

Nov 16, 2018

The poverty I felt most. . . was a scarcity of the heart, a near-constant state of longing for the mother right in front of me yet out of reach.

She withheld the immense love she had inside her like children of the Great Depression hoarded coins.

Nov 16, 2018

Class didn't exist in a democracy like ours [in 1980], as far as most Americans were concerned, at least not as a destiny or an excuse.

You got what you worked for, we believed.

There was some truth to that. But it was not the whole truth.

Nov 16, 2018

That we could live on a patch of Kansas dirt with a tub of Crisco lard and a $1 rebate coupon in an envelope on the kitchen counter and call ourselves middle class was at once a triumph of contentedness and a sad comment on our country's lack of awareness about its own economic structure.


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