Pro: A very interesting read. Surprisingly fast, too.
The Bottom Line: Adam shows that it is possible to scrape your way up from the bottom – it’s hard, and it sucks, but it is possible.
One day at work, a girl asked for this book for one of her school classes. Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream. I think if that subheading hadn’t been there, I might not have given it a second glance. After all, I get people asking for all kinds of books all the time. But with that subheader coupled with the picture of some guy standing on the side of the road with just a duffle bag made me wonder – what is this book about?
It’s about just that – Adam Shepard heads out to a random city with only the clothes on his back, a sleeping bag, and $25 to his name. He can’t use family and friends for help. He can’t use his previous history to help him get a job. He’s going in on a blank slate, or at least as blank as any person can be. He becomes another homeless person lost in the masses. But his goal is to have $2,500 saved up, a functioning vehicle, and a place to call his own at the end of one year. Is it possible these days? Can hard work and sheer desire get you to a better place in life like we’re all taught to believe?
Published back in 2008, it’s not terribly old so a lot of it should still easily apply. I found this book really hard to put down as each chapter brought something new into Adam’s life. This is a look into a place that we never see. The world of homelessness. The places they can go to get help and food and shelter. What it’s really like and the reasons it’s not what many people think it is. I learned about places that hooked places up with quick and easy labor (easy as in quick to acquire for the location, not always so easy on the workers), but paid like garbage because they’re essentially the ones doing the hiring so they can get away with paying the person a lesser cut than normal. I didn’t even know places could do that (restaurants aside – and let’s face it, people shouldn’t have to rely on tips to survive, but that’s a whole other ball of wax).
And before you jump on the “Oh, well he’s a white guy anyway so he’s got an advantage” wagon, Shepard acknowledges at the very beginning of the book that he is not in the same sort of position that many others are in. He’s not a single mother, he’s not a person of color – he doesn’t have added disadvantages and he is well aware of this. But this also isn’t a book saying, “Hey, anyone can do it!” It was his own sort of documented social experiment – a personal one. He wanted to know what it was like in the dredges of society. He wanted to know if people really were getting screwed day in and day out. He wanted to know if it was possible to get out, to get up, and for at least one person to, in essence, live the American Dream.
But I’m not going to tell you if he did or not – you need to read the book for that.
I think it’s the kind of book any person could read. It’s interesting and insightful. It has funny and poignant moments like any story of human interest. Adam has his setbacks, too, from struggling to find a job to breaking his toe and facing the money-eating world that is the hospital (he didn’t know about free clinics). It’s a reminder that if you think you have it tough, there’s always a lower rung you could be on (though most of us don’t like to think about that). Ultimately, it’s a good story, a real story, and one that might have you appreciating what you have just that much more, or perhaps working a little bit harder or budgeting a little bit better to improve your own lot in life.