Monday, October 27, 2014

Hand to Mouth - Linda Tirado

My review of Linda Tirado's Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today for non-crime Monday with their permission.

First line: "In the fall of 2013, I was in my first semester of school in a decade."

When Linda Tirado responded to an online forum question—“Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive?”—she had no idea her explanation would go viral and result in her first book, Hand to Mouth. This frank, sarcastic depiction of life as a member of the working poor is a frightening reality from which many Americans are just one misfortune away.

Tirado says, “Being poor is something like always being followed around by violins making ‘tense’ movie music…and they’re playing the shower scene from Psycho.” Life is a constant source of exhaustion: working multiple low-wage jobs, taking care of children and a home, in Tirado’s case attending school. All the while, fighting to pay the bills and praying no disaster strikes.

In her intelligent, articulate narrative, Tirado addresses numerous stereotypes, illustrating their hypocrisy and irrationality. For example, she discusses service work. She says, “I think the sorts of people who honestly think that service workers should be more smiley and gracious just don’t get it. They don’t get it because they can take so much for granted in their own lives—things like respect, consideration, and basic fairness on the job. Benefits. Insurance.”

The idea that the poor are lazy and should just work harder to improve their station in life is an illusion. By telling her personal story, Tirado shows how futile that theory is and how desperately changes need to be made. If readers approach Hand to Mouth with an open mind, they’re sure to leave it compassionately richer humans.

Hand to Mouth is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780399171987) from Putnam. There is also an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781611763300 ) read by Tirado from Penguin Audio.

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