What’s it all about?:
Evicted meets Nickel and Dimed in Stephanie Land’s memoir about working as a maid, a beautiful and gritty exploration of poverty in America. Includes a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich.
“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.”
While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work–primarily done by women–fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter’s head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today’s inequitable society.
While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans.
Written in honest, heart-rending prose and with great insight, 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. With this book, she gives voice to the “servant” worker, those who fight daily to scramble and scrape by for their own lives and the lives of their children.
What did I think?:
This review comes with a huge thank you to the lovely people at Orion Books who hosted an event just before Christmas entitled Books and Baubles where I managed to pick up a review copy of this moving memoir which was published on 24th January this year. I think I mentioned in a recent review that I love to read nonfiction that’s going to teach me a little something and if it has the ability to touch my heart in addition, well that’s a win-win situation for me! Reading real-live stories from normal individuals living extraordinary lives is another aspect that might draw me into picking up a book and when I read that it followed a single mother struggling to raise her daughter in impoverished circumstances within modern day America, I was too intrigued to let it slip through my fingers and had to pick it up and check it out.
On finishing and having been incredibly moved throughout, it hammered home how lucky I was in my current situation to have a guaranteed decent wage, roof over my head, supportive partner and the ability to treat myself on a monthly basis. Stephanie Land’s daily struggles to achieve the things I occasionally take for granted was both eye-opening and thought-provoking and I was constantly touched by her determination, ridiculously strong work ethic and maternal instinct to ensure her child never wanted for too much, even if it meant going without things herself.
Stephanie Land, author of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay And A Mother’s Will To Survive.
Maid follows Stephanie’s tumultuous life with her daughter, from teaching her to walk in a homeless shelter to her difficult relationship with her daughter’s father. We watch her fight for appropriate, affordable housing that is still inadequate and has devastating consequences for her child’s health and witness her steely resolution to work as many hours it takes just to provide enough food for her family and keep them both warm and comfortable. The only work she is able to take on is as a maid which involves back-breaking tasks, a constant supply of energy and resolve for very little money. She has no choice but to pay for childcare whilst she is working and has to use a car to move between different jobs so the wages she makes barely covers all these necessities and she is forced to rely on government assistance just so she and her daughter can eat.
I was raised in a working-class family where before my mother went back to university and forged a career for herself, she was a mainly stay-at-home parent with my father receiving the only wage for our house (from the army, which wasn’t huge). We never knew poverty and for that I feel incredibly grateful but we weren’t well-off either and there were times when we couldn’t have everything we desired. However, all three of us never wanted for anything and I know my mum would have taken food from her own mouth if it meant that we ate that evening. Luckily, I don’t believe that was ever necessary. As I have a very close relationship with my mum, I really responded to Stephanie’s emotional connection with her daughter and her instinct to protect and defend her, even if that meant Stephanie suffering herself as a result.
Apart from being quite an emotional read, this book was memorable to me in the way it made me think deeply about situations I hadn’t really appreciated before now. For example, what it feels like to have to work so hard for very little and still not have enough money to be able to do things that you would enjoy. Then there’s the shame that Stephanie felt about having to rely on food stamps and how she was treated by (some very ignorant, might I say) individuals because of that. That is to say, people saying to her “you’re welcome!,” referring to the fact that it was their tax money that paid for her shopping or judging what she bought with her food stamps – particularly if it was chocolate or a treat for her daughter. It made me so mad! I found her relationship with her family and her daughter’s father especially upsetting as well. She really didn’t have a decent support system in place and some of her family’s attitudes or deliberate ignoring of her situation really made my blood boil.
I respect and admire Stephanie Land so much for first of all writing this book and secondly, for making other people more aware of the situation that has become a ridiculous kind of normal for many people all over the globe who are just trying to make ends meet and survive but are subject to hideous poverty and unstable living conditions. It was a poignant, revealing read that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):