At the age of twenty-eight, author Stephanie Land had wide-eyed ambitions of heading off to university in Montana to study to become a writer, but her plans were cut short when a summer fling ended in an unplanned pregnancy. She briefly considered moving forward without telling her boyfriend, but quickly realized that the father of her child had a right to know. Unfortunately he turned abusive, leaving Stephanie homeless and fending for herself and her small child. She eventually took on work as a housekeeper, but her wages were so meager, she needed food stamps, WIC, and other government assistance in order to simply survive. Many days it felt like surviving was all that she was doing, but eventually she began taking online courses to get her degree and writing incessantly as her lifeline to the outside world. In this inspiring new memoir, she expresses what it was like to be stigmatized as a member of the working poor, while exposing the privilege of those for whom she toiled day in and day out.
Maid kept coming across my reading recommendation in various places online, and then I caught a snippet of an interview with author Stephanie Land on NPR. As someone who grew up with a single mother who struggled to make ends meet, I have a strong interest in these types of stories and how we, as a society, can make life better for those living in poverty, so I immediately put the book on my TBR list. I also suggested it as a possible read for my church book club, and other members apparently agreed with me, because it was voted to become our latest choice. I was thrilled to get the chance to read it sooner than I probably would have otherwise. (I'm a slow reader and my reading list is always jam-packed, but I leave room each month for book club reads.:-)) It definitely didn't disappoint. Many non-fiction books tend to be rather dry, but this one was an easy read that held my attention and kept me eagerly coming back for more. Ms. Land has a very relatable writing voice that tugged on my heartstrings and made me empathize with her situation, while also being a talented story-teller whose tales of the houses she cleaned and snippets of her own life engaged me in a way that many other non-fiction books haven't. I can easily say that Maid is the best book I've read so far in 2019.
Just as she was about to head for Missoula, Montana to enter college and study writing, Stephanie Land unexpectedly found herself pregnant. She briefly considered going anyway and not telling the father, but feeling that he and his unborn child had a right to know one another and trying to do the right thing, she did tell him. Unfortunately it led down a path toward the relationship turning abusive and ended with her as a homeless single mother. From there, she lived in a systemic cycle of poverty for years even though she was working her butt off cleaning houses, a job that paid only minimum wage, leaving her reliant on government assistance and the generosity of others for hers and her young daughter's survival. But through all the health problems, stress, and strain, she persevered, going to school while working full-time and caring for her child. In what little spare time she had, Stephanie kept trying to follow her dream of becoming a writer by keeping a blog, which was her lifeline to the outside world. After several years, she finally set out to do what she'd intended before her daughter was born and got her writing degree, which led to more writing opportunities and eventually this book.
I thoroughly enjoyed Maid, although "enjoy" is a strange word to use when one is reading about the dire struggles of another person. However, at the moment, I can't think of a better one to describe my experience reading it. I simply related very well to the author and her life, maybe because of my own mother's experiences or maybe because of my early adult life, both of which mirror Ms. Land's in some ways. But I think that it was more than that. The author had a way of drawing me into her world and making me feel everything that she was going through, stirring my empathy and compassion. Beyond that, I love how she gives her story a sense of place. Nearly all of the chapter titles are either a place where she lived or a place she cleaned for a living. When it came to the houses she cleaned, Ms. Land gave each of them names and brought each one to life as a character in itself. I loved learning about those houses and the people who lived in them. Even if the author never met the residents personally - which was often the case - she created narratives for them by observing their living habits. All the little details breathe life into the stories she tells and engaged me as a reader, making me want to see what her next house might be like.
Even though Ms. Land spent a number of years feeling like she was merely spinning her wheels in the never-ending morass of poverty, I sensed a hopefulness in her, a drive to better herself and create a more stable life for herself and her child that I found inspiring. For that, I commend her, and hopefully with the publication of this best-selling book, she's finally found the security she'd been lacking for so long. For a debut author, I thought this was truly a work of art that speaks volumes. It shows just how difficult it is for those on the bottom rungs of society, those who are largely invisible and forgotten. It's a poignant reminder that these people are human, too, and that we should treat them with respect rather than simply assuming that, if they're on government assistance, they're lazy or don't want to work. That definitely was not the case with Ms. Land, and she demonstrates all the obstacles that, for a more financially well-off person, might not even be obstacles at all, but for someone who's poor, can be absolutely devastating. I recommend the book for everyone. Those who are living in poverty like the author may find comfort and inspiration from her words, while those who are better off may come to see the workers around them who make less money in a different light. In any case, I thought Maid was an excellent read, one that will definitely be going on my keeper shelf, and that has made Stephanie Land an author for me to watch in the future.
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