Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land |Hachette Books | Book Review

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“At 28, Stephanie Land’s plans of breaking free from the roots of her hometown in the Pacific Northwest to chase her dreams of attending a university and becoming a writer, were cut short when a summer fling turned into an unexpected pregnancy. She turned to housekeeping to make ends meet, and with a tenacious grip on her dream to provide her daughter the very best life possible, Stephanie worked days and took classes online to earn a college degree, and began to write relentlessly.

She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told: the stories of overworked and underpaid Americans. Of living on food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) coupons to eat. Of the government programs that provided her housing, but that doubled as halfway houses. The aloof government employees who called her lucky for receiving assistance while she didn’t feel lucky at all. She wrote to remember the fight, to eventually cut through the deep-rooted stigmas of the working poor.

Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it’s like to be in service to them. “I’d become a nameless ghost,” Stephanie writes about her relationship with her clients, many of whom do not know her from any other cleaner, but who she learns plenty about. As she begins to discover more about her clients’ lives-their sadness and love, too-she begins to find hope in her own path.

Her compassionate, unflinching writing as a journalist gives voice to the “servant” worker, and those pursuing the American Dream from below the poverty line. Maid is Stephanie’s story, but it’s not her alone. It is an inspiring testament to the strength, determination, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit.”


Memoirs are one of my favorite kind of non-fiction books to read. I learn so much from reading about other people’s perspectives and I love being able to have a glimpse into a world that I might previously have not known much about. I recently shared a list of some of my favorite memoirs here. I was very interested in reading Stephanie’s Land book Maid and was excited when I found it on the “new releases” table at the library the other week.

Memoirs are also a very hard thing to review because they are someone’s personal story.Β  I would like to say that while this book didn’t entirely work for me, I appreciate Land sharing her story and there were very powerful parts of it.

First, I think it can be deceiving when a book is compared to another book as powerful as Evicted and could potentially set your expectations unrealistically high. Evicted is touted as one of the most powerful non-fiction books on poverty in America and Maid is really a story of one person’s experience in this situation. I think they are both important but it might be good to differentiate between those when starting this one.

Stephanie Land did not have an easy start in life and I think it is important to recognize the privileges that we are given (or not), just by the families and environments we are raised in. Many of the choices I was able to make in life were directly correlated to being born into a certain situation which really was just the luck of the draw.

As a child I was given the “gift” of education, I had people who supported and believed in me and I grew up in a home where my basic needs like having safe housing, healthy food and proper clothing were not something I ever needed to worry about. I do not think that means that someone cannot succeed without that, or that life will be a smooth ride if you have those things, but I do believe it is something that has to be part of the equation when talking about these topics.

There is a cycle of poverty that is very hard to get out of, and I appreciated that Land took on this issue in her writing. I think that there is a huge misunderstanding of things like subsidized housing and childcare, food stamps, and free healthcare and I appreciate that her story shares a perspective about these things that many may not have encountered before. I would have loved to hear more about these things and less about the details of the lives and homes of the people she cleaned for but really did not know at all.

I try very hard to not pass judgments on situations that I have not been in myself and unfortunately this is where this book really did not work for me. I have not been a single parent so I can only imagine many of the challenges that single working parents face. Land’s story was powerful enough without passing judgments on the people she cleaned for or came across in the grocery store.

“Living with illness or pain was part of my daily life. But why did my clients have these problems? It seemed like access to healthy foods, gym memberships, doctors and all of that would keep a person fit and well. Maybe the stress of keeping up a two-story house, a bad marriage, and maintaining the illusion of grandeur overwhelmed their systems in similar ways to how poverty did mine.”

This kind of thing really turned me off and I struggled with this part of her writing. There are so so many challenges that people face, no matter their socioeconomic level, and this just felt like a total disconnect for me…I always think it is okay to vent and share the challenges that you face, but I struggle with a lack of empathy or ability to have perspective on how choices also play some part on the path of our lives.

Because there really was a lack of reflection and discussion this book felt very whiny to me. I don’t want to belittle someone’s significant challenges without having walked in their shoes but there was just too much emphasis on why other people’s lives were better without the addition of some introspection from Land herself. I also often wished for more background information which I think would have made this writing so much stronger. I applaud Land for putting herself out there and I am so happy to hear of all she has done to better the lives of herself and her children.

 

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