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Scratch Beginnings

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Scratch Beginnings Reviewed

Adam Shepard, a regular guy just out of college, is fed up with the 'lack of drive that seems to be overcoming a younger generation in particular' (Shepard xiii). He decides to perform an experiment to see if the American Dream yet lives. Armed only with twenty-five dollars, a tarp, a gym bag, and the clothes he's wearing, Adam takes a train to Charleston, South Carolina to start a new life at the bottom of the social ladder with the goal of obtaining a furnished apartment, a car, at least $2,500 cash, and have a means of continuing his upward climb, all in one year.
After arriving in his new city, he begins living in a homeless shelter, Crisis Ministries, where he stays for about two and a half months. During that time, he finds out some surprising things about homeless people, and eventually becomes one of them. He also does some odd jobs with the programs that his shelter offers, makes a little money, then convinces a moving company to hire him. Soon after getting a stable job and income, he moves out of the shelter to rent an attic, then out again to rent an apartment with a coworker's cousin.

Scratch Beginnings is a rather well-written story that manages to stay interesting the whole way through. When I first picked it up, I thought, 'Eh, another typical American Dream story.' But a few pages in, I realized that this book was different. Adam Shepard's book is written as a rebuttal to the theory presented by Barbara Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, that the American Dream is dead. Scratch Beginnings is not just a bunch of statistics like many other non-fiction books, but one with a plot and characters, almost like a fiction adventure set in the real world. I found Shepard's story to feel almost like talking to him in person. His style is accessible to anyone over fifteen or sixteen. His writing is not flowery and he doesn't use 'carefully comprised prose [that] dances sublimely off the page.' It's a lot like everyday speech and is easy to read and understand. And at the same time, his descriptions are very detailed without sounding too verbose. He also tells everything exactly like it happened, no euphemisms or exaggerations. The crack-cocaine deal, the profanity and vocabulary of guys like Phil Coleman, BG, and Bonesy, it seems as though you're right there with Adam seeing everything yourself.

But the book's main focus and Shepard's ultimate goal were never out of sight. His story of 'rags-to-fancier-rags' is a perfect example of what the American Dream can be with a good attitude and work ethic. It also bears witness to what can happen when people wallow in their misery or get distracted from their goal. I believe there is a lot to be learned from this book and that the author's accomplishments are a real inspiration to the reader.





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