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

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,582 ratings  ·  345 reviews
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
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 18th 2018 by Scribner
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Macaela It looks like it will be released in September, however you are able to pre-order now.
Suzanne The author grew up in and around Wichita -- in the city as well as on a farm in Kingman County.

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Richard Derus
Oct 23, 2018 rated it liked it
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
Clif Hostetler
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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 ...more
Sep 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
“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 ...more
(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 ...more
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
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 ...more
Janilyn Kocher
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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:
Jun 03, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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.
Oct 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
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
Jennifer Blankfein
Dec 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Review to come on Book Nation by Jen.
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 17, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
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 ...more
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2018
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
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
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.
I had hoped to be keener on this one. Best feature for me were the stories of the grandmothers and mother.
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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
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 ...more
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
I had such high hopes, given the reviews I'd read and the accolades this book is getting., 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.
Jaclyn Crupi
Dec 05, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
Laurie's Lit Picks
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Aug 24, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars, non-fiction
"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,
Aug 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
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 ...more
Oct 06, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
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Journalist Sarah Smarsh has covered socioeconomic class, politics, and public policy for The Guardian, The New York Times,,, Longreads, Pacific Standard and many others. A native of rural Kansas, Smarsh is a frequent speaker and commentator on economic inequality and the news media. She lives in Kansas.
“suitcase and split. She and Jeannie rode” 0 likes
“How can you talk about the poor child without addressing the country that let her be so? It’s a relatively new way of thinking for me. I was raised to put all responsibility on the individual, on the bootstraps with which she ought pull herself up. But it’s the way of things that environment changes outcomes. Or, to put it in my first language: The crop depends on the weather, dudnit? A good seed’ll do ’er job ’n’ sprout, but come hail ’n’ yer plumb outta luck regardless.” 0 likes
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