In her heartfelt and powerful debut memoir, Land describes the struggles she faced as a young single mother living in poverty. “My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter,” she writes, before chronicling her difficult circumstances. Land got pregnant at 28, then left an abusive relationship and went on to raise her daughter, Mia, while working as a part-time house cleaner in Skagit Valley, Wash. Later, using public assistance, Land moved to a moldy studio apartment and got her daughter into daycare. While housecleaning, Land imagines the lives of the clients, whom she knows intimately through their habits and possessions (their apparent unhappiness despite financial comfort fosters compassion as well as gratitude for her own modest space), and experiences the humiliating stigma of being poor in America (“You’re welcome!” a stranger snarls at the checkout as she pays with food stamps). Even while working, Land continued to follow her dream of becoming a writer. She began a journal and took online classes, and eventually attended the University of Montana in Missoula. Land’s love for her daughter (“We were each other’s moon and sun”) shines brightly through the pages of this beautiful, uplifting story of resilience and survival. Agent: Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary. (Jan.)
First-time author Land chronicles her years among the working poor as a single mother with only a high school diploma trying to earn a living as a minimum-wage housecleaner.
The author did not grow up in poverty, but her struggles slowly evolved after her parents divorced, remarried, and essentially abandoned her; after she gave birth to a daughter fathered by a man who never stopped being abusive; and after her employment prospects narrowed to dirty jobs with absurdly low hourly pay. The relentlessly depressing, quotidian narrative maintains its power due to Land's insights into working as an invisible maid inside wealthy homes; her self-awareness as a loving but inadequate mother to her infant; and her struggles to survive domestic violence. For readers who believe individuals living below the poverty line are lazy and/or intellectually challenged, this memoir is a stark, necessary corrective. Purposefully or otherwise, the narrative also offers a powerful argument for increasing government benefits for the working poor during an era when most benefits are being slashed. Though the benefits received by Land and her daughter after mountains of paperwork never led to financial stability, they did ameliorate near starvation. The author is especially detailed and insightful on the matter of government-issued food stamps. Some of the most memorable scenes recount the shaming Land received when using the food stamps to purchase groceries. Throughout, Land has been sustained by her fierce love for her daughter and her dreams of becoming a professional writer and escaping northwest Washington state by settling in the seemingly desirable city of Missoula, Montana. She had never visited Missoula, but she imagined it as paradise. Near the end of the book, Land finally has enough money and time to visit Missoula, and soon after the visit, the depression lifts.
An important memoir that should be required reading for anyone who has never struggled with poverty.
"A single mother's personal, unflinching look at America's class divide, a description of the tightrope many families walk just to get by, and a reminder of the dignity of all work." President Barack Obama, "Obama's 2019 Summer Reading List"
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"More than any book in recent memory, Land nails the sheer terror that comes with being poor, the exhausting vigilance of knowing that any misstep or twist of fate will push you deeper into the hole."The Boston Globe
"Stephanie Lands memoir [Maid] is a bracing one."The Atlantic
"An eye-opening journey into the lives of the working poor."
People, Perfect for Your Book Club
"The particulars of Land's struggle are sobering, but it's the impression of precariousness that is most memorable."The New Yorker
"[Land's] book has the needed quality of reversing the direction of the gaze. Some people who employ domestic labor will read her account. Will they see themselves in her descriptions of her clients? Will they offer their employees the meager respect Land fantasizes about? Land survived the hardship of her years as a maid, her body exhausted and her brain filled with bleak arithmetic, to offer her testimony. It's worth listening to."
New York Times Book Review
"What this book does well is illuminate the struggles of poverty and single-motherhood, the unrelenting frustration of having no safety net, the ways in which our society is systemically designed to keep impoverished people mired in poverty, the indignity of poverty by way of unmovable bureaucracy, and people's lousy attitudes toward poor people... Land's prose is vivid and engaging... [A] tightly-focused, well-written memoir... an incredibly worthwhile read."
Roxane Gay, New York Times bestselling author of Bad Feminist and Hunger: A Memoir
"An eye-opening exploration of poverty in America."Bustle
"Marry the evocative first person narrative of Educated with the kind of social criticism seen in Nickel and Dimed and you'll get a sense of the remarkable book you hold in your hands. In Maid, Stephanie Land, a gifted storyteller with an eye for details you'll never forget, exposes what it's like to exist in America as a single mother, working herself sick cleaning our dirty toilets, one missed paycheck away from destitution. It's a perspective we seldom see represented firsthand-and one we so desperately need right now. Timely, urgent, and unforgettable, this is memoir at its very best."Susannah Cahalan, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
"For readers who believe individuals living below the poverty line are lazy and/or intellectually challenged, this memoir is a stark, necessary corrective.... [T]he narrative also offers a powerful argument for increasing government benefits for the working poor during an era when most benefits are being slashed.... An important memoir that should be required reading for anyone who has never struggled with poverty."Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Maid provides an important look at the morass of difficulties faced by the working poor."Elle Magazine
"[A] heartfelt and powerful debut memoir.... Land's love for her daughter... shines brightly through the pages of this beautiful, uplifting story of resilience and survival."
Publishers Weekly, starred review
"[A] vivid and visceral yet nearly unrelenting memoir... Her journey offers an illuminating read that should inspire outrage, hope, and change."Library Journal
"Raw...Land [is] a gifted storyteller...Offers moments of levity...[Maid] shows we need to create an economy in which single motherhood and the risk of poverty do not go hand in hand."Ms. Magazine
"A heartfelt memoir."
Harvard Business Review
"Maid delves into her time working for the upper middle class in the service industry, and in it, uncovers the true strength of the human spirit."San Diego Entertainer, Books to Kick Off Your New Year
"In writing about the spaces outside of her work,
though, Land gives shape to the depleting anxiety and isolation that accompany motherhood in poverty for millions of Americans."The Nation
"[An] example of the determination and grace [is] on display in her memoir, in which she renders vividly the back-breaking and often surreal work of deep-cleaning strangers' homes while navigating the baffling bureaucracies of government assistance programs."Salon
"The book, with its unfussy prose and clear voice, holds you. It's one woman's story of inching out of the dirt and how the middle class turns a blind eye to the poverty lurking just a few rungs below and it's one worth reading."The Washington Post
"It is with beautiful prose that Land chronicles her time working as a housekeeper to make ends meet...Captur[es] the experience of hardworking
Americans who make little money and are often invisible to their employers."Boston.com, 20 Books to Read in 2019
"Fascinating...Communicates clearly the challenges of a marginal existence as a single mother living in poverty as she sought to provide a stable and predictable home for her daughter in a situation that was anything but stable and predictable."The Columbus Dispatch
"Takes readers inside the gritty, unglamorous life of the underpaid,
overworked people who serve the upper-middle class for a living."Parade
"Stephanie Land strips class divisions bare in her phenomenal memoir Maid, providing a profoundly important expose on the economy of being a single mother in America. This is the warrior cry from the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, reminding us to change our lives and remember how to see each other. Standing ovation. Not since Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed has the working woman's real life been so honestly illuminated."Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Book of Joan
"In a country whose frayed safety net gets less policy attention than the marginal tax rate, Land is the anomaly not only in surviving to tell the tale - and in telling it with such compelling economy."Vulture, 8 New Books You Should Read this January
"Land's memoir forces readers to examine their implicit judgments about what we mean by the value of hard work in America and societal expectations of motherhood."Electric Lit
"Honest, unapologetic, and beautifully written."Hello Giggles
"Tells an honest story many are too afraid to examine."SheKnows.com
Writer Land's vivid and visceral yet nearly unrelenting memoir covers three dark years in the life of a single mother raising her young daughter, Mia, on the unlivable wages that come with the physically and emotionally grueling work of contract housekeeping. With family who are unable to help and a contentious relationship with Mia's abusive father, Land determines to make a life for herself and Mia on her own. Through work as a maid and occasional government assistance, she scrapes by, but at the cost of her health and dignity. Most of the chapters are named for the homes Land cleans, identified by a dominant attribute ("the porn house," "the sad house"), and signifying the unusual intimacy of a nonrelationship between householder and the person who cleans up after their domestic behavior. Unfortunately, Land's personal narrative does not extend or speak to the larger realities of poverty and single motherhood, particularly for women of color. And while Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed) provides an interesting foreword, it doesn't help enough to widen the book's lens. VERDICT Land has perhaps succeeded in having her story told by virtue of her eventual triumph in escaping the grind of poverty. Her journey offers an illuminating read that should inspire outrage, hope, and change.—Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus