Praise for Kansas author Sarah Smarsh’s debut book just keeps growing — and now the memoir has been selected for a nationwide book club.
Sarah Jessica Parker, honorary chairwoman of the American Library Association’s Book Club Central, announced Tuesday that she has selected “Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth” as her latest “SJP pick” for libraries.
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“Ms. Smarsh writes with authority and urgency about the entrenched deprivation of overlooked Americans born into poverty across the country,” the actor and producer said in a statement announcing the pick.
“Her straightforward, empathetic storytelling is motivated by a deeply-saturated love for her family and Kansas home and brings readers into the heart of what it means to live with brokenness and resilience every day. I look forward to sharing this important book with all of you at our libraries.”
Book Club Central, an initiative of the American Library Association, is an online resource for book clubs and readers that features book reviews, author interviews, discussion questions and more.
Parker’s latest selection means libraries across the country will share “Heartland” with book clubs in their communities, providing discussion questions, gathering spaces and other resources for connecting through the book.
“I’m over the friggin moon,” Smarsh said in a Facebook post Tuesday.
Smarsh, 38, a freelance journalist who has reported on socioeconomic class, politics and public policy, said she chronicled her turbulent childhood in rural Kansas because such stories often go unnoticed and unappreciated.
“My criticism of the American Dream is, we’ve called it a promise,” she recently told The Wichita Eagle. “And what it is is more like a one-in-a-million shot.
“To tell our young people or our working people that somehow there is some just reward for their efforts, is just pretty clearly false,” she said. “If you’re born poor, statistically you’re probably going to stay poor, regardless of how hard you work. And that holds pretty true for every level of the economic ladder.”
“Heartland” was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
A New York Times reviewer said the book is “a deeply humane memoir with crackles of clarifying insight,” comparing it to Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted” and Amy Goldstein’s “Janesville.” Kirkus, in a starred review, called it “a potent social and economic message embedded within an affecting memoir.”
In a statement issued with Tuesday’s announcement, Smarsh said she was “humbled and thrilled” to have her book selected for the nationwide book club.
“As a writer who documents socioeconomic inequality, I see libraries as guardians of democracy, ensuring access to books and safe public spaces for enjoying them,” she said. “The American Library Association’s Book Club Central goes an exciting step further by bringing books to life with group discussion, which sews a strong social fabric.”
Previous books selected by Parker for Book Club Central include: “No One is Coming to Save Us” by Stephanie Powell Watts; “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid; “Stay With Me” by Ayobami Adebayo; “Anatomy of a Miracle” by Jonathan Miles; and “She Would Be King” by Wayetu Moore.