Joanna Howard and Jennifer Croft left Oklahoma, like fellow fall-memoirist Travis Dandro (King of King Court) left central Massachusetts, like writer and illustrator Frank Santoro (Pittsburgh) left Pittsburgh. All four of these writers and artists came of age during a time when it was hard—with drops in opportunity and stability, especially in rural America—to remain in the places where they grew up. But they had other reasons for leaving. Howard’s father had a stroke. Croft’s father lost his job and her sister needed access to better healthcare. Santoro’s parents got divorced and stopped talking to each other. Santoro writes, “They occasionally run into each other at work, and pretend not to see each other. The only connecting thread between them is me.”
Each book conveys the effect of living with the expectations of an older generation, gleaning lessons along the way, and then being unable to implement many of those lessons in a materially shifted world.
Each of the four memoirs also capture the powerlessness of childhood. Dandro’s father was physically and emotionally abusive and his King of King Court uses patient, sustained scenes, to conjure the way in which the euphoria and terror of childhood get tangled together. In one scene, young Dandro eats a bowl of ice cream on the stairs while his mom screams on the phone in the kitchen. In another, he watches a grape juice commercial, decides to get some, and then finds his dad shooting drugs in the kitchen. Poverty and unemployment are key risk factors for addiction, problems that have grown increasingly severe in rural regions.