HAND TO MOUTH by Linda Tirado


Living in Bootstrap America
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A challenged mom on welfare gets personal.

Having once lived in a weekly motel, Tirado responded to an Internet thread about what some perceive as poor people’s questionable choices. Her raw, defeatist perspective went viral and fuels much of this book’s emotional reflections on “trying to get back to the starting line” after years subsisting at the poverty level. Resisting the temptation to cast blame on capitalism or random stratification, Tirado attributes her situation to “a mix of my own decisions and some seriously bad luck” and describes the freak rainstorm that flooded and destroyed the contents of her apartment while she was pregnant. Once evicted, things spiraled downward. To live, Tirado embarked on a physically exhaustive, “soul-killing” three-job routine requiring her to shuttle (for miles on foot) from one low-wage, part-time job to the next. The jobs she did qualify for were undercompensated and harmful: a fry cook at a fast-food restaurant or tending bar for a boss who expected sexual favors in exchange for prime shifts. As someone who has lived in the trenches of desperation, Tirado explains that being poor is difficult not just in attempting to scrape by, but also in processing the cultural perception and resultant condescension and degradation from unsympathetic onlookers. Her tone oscillates from educative and resilient, when discussing access to preventive medical care and discount food, to heatedly defensive, as when justifying a poor person’s bad work attitude as a “survival mechanism” or the moral compass of someone who is penniless yet smokes, drinks and drives uninsured. Tirado’s raw reportage offers solidarity for those on the front lines of hardship yet issues a cautionary forewarning to the critical: “Poverty is a potential outcome for all of us.”

Outspoken and vindictive, Tirado embodies the cyclical vortex of today’s struggle to survive.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0399171987
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2014


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