On Sale Date: March 16, 2021
ISBN 9780593084021, 0593084020
Hardcover | 272 pages
In a poignant memoir, a young journalist wrestles with what we owe the places we’ve left behind.
In the tiny farmtown of Emmett, Idaho, there are two kinds of people: those who leave and those who stay. Those who leave go in search of greener pastures, better jobs, and college. Those who stay are left to contend with thinning communities, punishing government farm policy, and environmental decay. Grace Olmstead is one who left, and in her debut memoir she examines the heartbreaking consequences of her decision—and those of people like her—for heartland America.
Olmstead’s childhood was idyllic. She ate fresh beef and eggs her great-grandfather and grandfather farmed in a neighboring town, she sang in the church choir, and she helped with her grandmother’s quilting bees. She prided herself on inheriting her grandfathers’ work ethic and small-town values. But then, like so many other young people in rural America, she moved away for college—and didn’t return.
In Uprooted, Olmstead, now a journalist in Washington, D.C., wrestles with the question of what we owe the places we come from. How do we square our desire for self-improvement, economic opportunity and growth with the damage and brain drain left in our wake? She tells the stories of townspeople who no longer know each other, of high schoolers who want to get away, and contrasts them with the struggles of the few stickers who have tried to put down roots. She delves into the government policies and Big Agriculture practices that make it almost impossible for America’s farmtowns to survive. And she paints a dark picture of what will happen, not just to Emmett, but to America, if we become a nation where, blown around by market whims and individual preferences, no one stays.
Ultimately, Olmstead presents us with the question facing many young Americans. What are we willing to sacrifice in exchange for belonging to the place we’re from? Drawing on her grandparents’ example, she suggests habits and practices that cultivate rootedness wherever one may be, but she refuses to sugarcoat the tragic truth that all transplants face: some things, once lost, cannot be recovered.