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Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education


Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education

Stephanie Land invited readers into the deeply personal world of her life as a maid, the end of her abusive relationship, and the joy she found in motherhood, despite the trappings of poverty. In MAID, Land spoke often of her dream of getting an education and becoming a writer. In CLASS, she takes us with her as she achieves this goal, one student loan, judgmental look and peanut butter sandwich at a time.

When this follow-up memoir begins, it has been two years since Land chose to move herself and her daughter, six-year-old Emilia, more than 500 miles from her abusive ex, Jamie. Now it is Emilia’s first day of kindergarten and Land’s first day of her senior year of college at the University of Montana. The promise of firsts seems like a good omen…until Land is reminded of her status as below-the-poverty-line when a cafeteria worker proudly yells “Oh, a free meal kid!” when she serves breakfast to Emilia. Land is accustomed to these kinds of announcements, but she worries immediately about the effect they will have on her daughter.

Whereas the Land we met in MAID was mostly on her own, the Land in CLASS has found community and family in Missoula, Montana, where she and Emilia enjoy rock climbing and camping with fellow climbers. As the resident of a college town, Land has no trouble finding roommates, usually college students, who are willing to babysit Emilia or pick her up from her bus stop for a few dollars off the rent. She even manages to enjoy a night out by herself once in a while. But more than that, she has built a home. Emilia has lived in 15 homes already, but Land is certain that this is the one she will grow her roots in, and that the school she has just started will be the one she goes to every year until graduation --- forming lifelong friendships and finding the kind of stability that Land has only dreamed up.

"While the chapters on class-jumping and navigating byzantine student loan and government assistance programs are compelling, the parts of the book where Land focuses on her desire to be a mother are downright heart-grabbing."

There are hiccups, of course. For one, Jamie disappoints both Land and Emilia when he continuously bails on plans to see his daughter or provide her with the toys he promises but never delivers. As the primary custodial parent, it is Land who deals with Emilia’s tears and outbursts when these things happen. And then, beyond the hiccups, there are outright disasters: poverty continues to be outlandishly expensive, and balancing childcare with school, work, and the endless forms and applications needed to prove that you can barely afford to live push Land to the edge more than once.

But more than that, it is the judgment Land faces for daring to seek higher education that forms the backbone to CLASS. This belief that, as a poor person, Land should not wish or dream for more than she is oh-so-lucky to receive (government cheese, peanut butter and ratty hand-me-downs) worms its way deep into her heart. It fills her with guilt and shame, even as she assures herself that she is doing the right thing for both her and her daughter.

In this way, the book’s title has a double meaning. Land literally walks us through the creative and nonfiction writing courses she takes in college, expanding upon her dream to be a writer and how she believes each class will be the one that gets her there. But it also refers to the idea that Land, as the member of a certain socioeconomic class, should not only be grateful for whatever she can get, but will more often than not be prevented from rising above the class that poverty has kept her trapped in.

Land quickly learns that there seems to be not just a certain dollar amount that keeps her from understanding and working the intricate system of higher education --- and the loans and connections that help you do so --- but a secondary skill set she neither has nor can identify. The route to success is maze-like, the logic is illogical, and every offer for help comes with the assumption that you’re probably faking your need for it…or worse, not working hard enough to do it yourself. Land navigates these complex, bureaucratic, red-tape nightmares in school, in caring for her daughter, and even in her personal friendships and relationships. And then she learns she is pregnant.

If Land once thought that people found her desire for higher education intolerable, their judgment was nothing compared to what happens when she, a poor, single mother, dares to want a second baby. While the chapters on class-jumping and navigating byzantine student loan and government assistance programs are compelling, the parts of the book where Land focuses on her desire to be a mother are downright heart-grabbing. Having been the victim of abuse and witnessed the effects of her ex’s abuse on Emilia, Land finds the chance to parent a new baby alluring, but she also dreams of having a child who never knows food or housing insecurity.

If I have one quibble, it is that Land occasionally suffers from “telling, not showing.” In MAID, she reported bravely and unflinchingly about dirty toilets, creepy bosses and abusive exes, but the anecdotes were presented with lots of afterthought and hindsight, delivering gorgeous moments of insight and revelation. In CLASS, she does far more telling --- of her nights at bars, the joys of concerts, and bending over homework assignments for hours --- and the result can feel a bit unfinished.

That said, in sharing these stories, Land is unabashed and unashamed in revealing her bad decisions, her poorly thought-out choices, and even her heated moments of anger. This provides some of the book’s strongest refrains. My favorite line, which I highlighted and underlined, sums it up perfectly: “I sound angry, don’t I? I hope I do. I’ve spent so much of my life pretending not to be angry, and I’m not doing that anymore.” Brava!

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on November 10, 2023

Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education
by Stephanie Land

  • Publication Date: November 7, 2023
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction, Social Sciences
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atria/One Signal Publishers
  • ISBN-10: 1982151390
  • ISBN-13: 9781982151393