Jan 30

Student Review: Scratch Beginnings

Memoir - Poverty



Jeffrey Liao  provided this student review of the non-fiction memoir Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard.

Scratch Beginnings

If you’re a teenager who is wondering what it’s like to be poor, read this book.

If you’re a liberal and believe the American Dream doesn’t exist, read this book.

If you’re a conservative and believe the homeless are just lazy, read this book.

If you haven’t heard or read Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard, you’re missing out.

Shepard’s memoir of his journey from “rags-to-fancier-rags” is a very enlightening book that I, admittedly, had trouble putting down.

Will you receive cultural insider knowledge on how the other half lives after reading this book?

Yes. Will you become a financial guru? Probably not. The point is, the purpose of this book is to prove two things: 1) that the American Dream does exist. 2) People who complain about what they don’t have are just whiners.

The book begins with Shepard providing context to his little social experiment. He states the motivation behind his wanting to do this (which was to prove the American Dream does exist), and how he made sure his experiment was controlled and unbiased. He chose a random city, only took an initial amount of $25 to spend, a sleeping bag and the clothes on his back. He establishes that his goal is to get a place to live in, own a car, and become a regular citizen of society, all within a year. Shepard then takes the train to Charleston, where he soon finds a homeless shelter called Crisis Ministries, but not before having several tense encounters with homeless people. At Crisis Ministries, he’s able to get a job, however, it pays very little, and it isn’t even a secure job (as every day is a new job somewhere else). While he still looks for ways to get closer to achieving his goal, he starts to form friendships with the people at Crisis Ministries, often hanging out with them and watching movies together. He discovers more about the personal lives of the homeless, and how they ended up in their poor situation.

As Adam progresses, it is very interesting to see how his attitude changes. See, in the beginning, Adam was absolutely determined to keep a low profile. He did not want to attract attention to himself, either by fighting or doing something illegal. However, after he finishes a stressful and abusive shift at a clothing store, he gets tired of Planet Plump’s (the manager of the store) mistreatment of Adam and his friends and decides to confront her. He transitioned from a very cautious man to a person who just did not care anymore. Adam wanted to just be himself.

Later, Adam discovers that he has a solid opportunity to land himself a job at a carwash, but declines since the wage was slightly smaller than he had wanted. Still though, it was a significant step towards official employment. In the end, he does get hired as a mover for furniture, and considered himself lucky that he got paired with “one of the best movers on the planet.”

In the end, Shepard succeeds in finding a secure job, a place to live, and fitting into society. He also accomplishes more than that, and in lesser time than he had expected.

So, with that summary in mind, I think that Adam’s journey to find the American Dream was very fruitful and was filled with revelations. It may have had its flaws, as Adam himself points out in his book, but I believe that while he may have gotten lucky at times, his story cannot just be ignored. It does have a lot of merits. He did as much as he could to keep his experiment random and as close to a regular homeless man’s situation as possible. And yet, he was still able to get a job and home in less than a year. In general, I recommend this book for anyone. The American Dream theme relates to everyone in different aspects. Like I said at the beginning of this review: If you think the American Dream does not exist, read this book. Adam provides a relatively concrete case that the A.D. is within America’s reach. You will be thoroughly intrigued by how he got so far with so little. If you’re a conservative who believes homeless people just can’t get a job because they’re lazy, you will be surprised when you read how much Adam’s homeless friends eagerly talk about getting a job. You will discover that they don’t spend all their money on drugs. Some of them were just a victim of circumstance.

This book is certainly comparable to Ehrenrich’s Nickel and Dimed, where she concludes that the American Dream does not exist. Adam’s purpose, as he stated in the beginning of his book, was to prove her wrong, essentially serving as a rebuttal to her book. These two authors were people who were trying to discover if the illusive America Dream truly existed. Personally, I think that Adam has a better argument, since his process of starting low and coming out high was a lot more controlled and more realistic than that of Ehrenrich, who allowed herself to use her credit card. Ehrenrich didn’t really have a consistent, legitimate process, so I do not believe her conclusion is supported by her experiment.

But that is all just my opinion. Everyone has their opinions. For me, Adam’s book made quite an impact on how I see the unfortunate victims of circumstance, who are out there in the world, trying to become better people but just can’t seem to find the right chances to do so. Adam has also boosted my confidence that the American Dream could actually be tangible, if not already tangible. Therefore, after considering that he started out with so little, and came out with a lot, I proudly give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.