Heartland by Sarah Smarsh


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 my...

Details Heartland

Release DateSep 18th, 2018
GenreNonfiction, Autobiography, Memoir, Biography, Economics, Biography Memoir

Reviews Heartland

  • Richard Derus
    Real Rating: 2.5* of fiveDNF @ 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 ...
  • Clif Hostetler
    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 farmin...
  • Michelle
    “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 ye...
  • Elizabeth
    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 ...
  • Rebecca
    (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 o...
  • Kathleen
    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...
  • Janilyn Kocher
    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 fort...
  • Paul
    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 ...
  • Brandi
    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 ...
  • 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, t...
  • Brad
    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 ...
  • 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.
  • M
    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 withou...
  • Stephanie
    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 t...
  • Suzanne
    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 th...
  • Kayo
    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 hadno bearing on the rating I gave it.
  • Marian
    I had hoped to be keener on this one. Best feature for me were the stories of the grandmothers and mother.
  • Alison
    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 repetit...
  • Lindsey
    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...
  • 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 ...
  • Cow
    I had such high hopes, given the reviews I'd read and the accolades this book is getting. But...wow, 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 wr...
  • Jaclyn Crupi
    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
    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 generati...
  • Jennifer
    "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" Augu...
  • Mara
    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 difficu...
  • Mainlinebooker
    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 a...
  • Ashley
    So smart and thoughtful. I was disappointed reading Hillbilly Elegy - it didn't quite get the experience of growing up rural and/or poor and "getting out" and what that means and how fraught that can be - but Heartland succeeds where Hillbilly Elegy failed. Sarah Smarsh just completely gets it and engages you from start to finish with compassion and intelligence.
  • Libby
    Full disclosure- I didnt finish this book. By about page 60 of this book, we still haven't gotten very much detail about the day to day struggles and especially not the solutions, involved in living at or below the poverty line in America. It reads more like poetry or perhaps an editorial opinion column, and I just didn't get it, to be honest. It doesn't help that I picked it up after reading Give a Girl a Knife, where that author and her husband...
  • Jodie
    I found the narrative interesting, but not compelling. I was especially put off by the device of setting the book as a story told to an unborn child. It felt artificial to me. I also bridled at the self-congratulatory nature of the conclusion. All in all, not as strong an expose as I expected.