A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth By Sarah Smarsh
Sarah Smarsh, a journalist from rural Kansas, specializes in issues of socioeconomic inequality and public policy. In spring 2018, she was a Shorenstein Fellow at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's John E Kennedy School of Government. She has an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia. Heartland is her first book.
THE TOPIC: Sarah Smarsh comes from a long line of strong women who were uprooted by poverty and broken relationships and held back by teenage pregnancies. She recounts her great-grandmother Dorothy's many moves across the Great Plains with her daughters in the 1950s and 1960s. The author's grandmother, Betty, divorced multiple times before settling down on a wheat farm outside of Wichita, Kansas, in the 1970s; the author's mother, Jeannie, got pregnant at 17. Smarsh explores these family stories in a thematic, cyclical manner rather than chronologically. She was the first in her family to attend college and chose not to become a mother; nonetheless, she addresses the book to an imaginary daughter, August. Heartland, which covers five generations, provides an eye-opening look at how class and education affect women's lives. Scribner. 304 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781501133091
Los Angeles Times ****
"Readers with social justice sympathies should be aware that they may not be the choir to whom Smarsh is preaching here.... Similarly, right-leaning readers may be expecting the usual hagiography about farmers, but Heartland avoids these pitfalls." LEAH HAMPTON
"[T]he author emphasizes how those with solid financial situations often lack understanding about families such as hers. ... A potent social and economic message embedded within an affecting memoir."
Minneapolis StarTribune ****
"Her goal is nothing less than disputing the belief that some people--specifically 'white trash'--are just meant to be, that the bad choices they make regarding sex or alcohol or jobs or education are, well, practically in their DNA and not the result of cultural forces....This is a provocative, well-researched book for our times." KIM ODE
New York Post ****
"Smarsh's book, a soul-baring meditation on poverty and class in America, tells the...