Standing on the stage, i felt exposed and like an intruder. In these professional settings, my personal experiences with hunger, poverty, and episodic homelessness, often go undetected. I had worked hard to learn the rules and disguise my beginning in life..." So begins C. Nicole Mason's compelling memoir, which gives us a rare insider's look into the lives of the American poor. Born in the 1970s in Los Angeles, California, Mason was raised by a 16-year-old single mother who dropped out of high school. From wondering where her next meal would come from to learning the deadlines for college entrance exams by eavesdropping on the few white kids in her predominantly Black and Latino high school, Mason describes in vivid detail the chaos, failing systems, isolation, and violence that make the American Dream out of reach for so many. While showing us her own path out of poverty, Mason examines the conditions that make poverty nearly impossible to escape and exposes the presumption harbored by many-that the poor don't help themselves enough.
In truth, the convoluted, bureaucratic lattice of societal rules that govern everything from education to criminal justice is structurally impenetrable by the poor. With first-hand experience learning these rules for herself, Mason illuminates the sheer fortitude that it takes to navigate systems designed only for the success of the few.