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Lowborn: Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain’s Poorest Towns

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  2,745 ratings  ·  307 reviews
What does it really mean to be poor in Britain today? A prizewinning novelist revisits her childhood and some of the country's most deprived towns

'When every day of your life you have been told you have nothing of value to offer, that you are worth nothing to society, can you ever escape that sense of being ‘lowborn’ no matter how far you’ve come?’

Kerry Hudson is proudly
Paperback, 241 pages
Published May 16th 2019 by Chatto & Windus
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Average rating 4.16  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,745 ratings  ·  307 reviews

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Jun 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is a compelling account of what it is like to grow up in poverty in Britain, what it is like to be on the margins of society in an unstable household. Hudson sums up her first eighteen years:
“1 single mother, 2 stays in foster care, 9 primary schools, 1 sexual abuse child protection enquiry, 5 high schools, 2 sexual assaults, 1 rape, 2 abortions, my 18th birthday.”
Hudson goes back (literally) to the places of her childhood which include Aberdeen, Canterbury, Airdrie, North Shields, Coatbrid
Anya Bramich
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-reads
This is truly amazing. I can’t believe that someone could write such an utterly miserable story - a story of their own incredibly difficult life growing up in extreme poverty and neglect - and create something that is so rich, so engaging and so warm.

This is Hudson’s memoir of growing up with a single mother, an erratic wider family, an absent father, some cruel step-father figures against a backdrop of frightening council estates and small, grey, towns.

The book takes the reader through her ea
(2.5) Nowadays novelist Kerry Hudson passes for middle class, but she can’t forget the sort of situations she came from: a family history of mental illness, a single mother who got falling-down drunk, foster care, frequent moves between cheap B&Bs and homeless shelters across Scotland and England, pawn shops and government handouts, bullying and sexual assaults. In 2018 she returned to all the places she’d lived as a child to see if they were the same. For the most part, they were. “I stood in f ...more
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-read-2019
If you were to hear Kerry Hudson speak now, you would hear her soft Scottish lilt. She would be telling you about her prize-winning books that have enabled her to travel all over the world. She is in a strong relationship and has plenty of opportunities and has access to many wonderful things.

It could have been so different.

Her score for the childhood trauma on the Adverse Childhood Experiences was eight out of ten. Her mother and step-father had a tumultuous relationship. She moved constantly a
Nov 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Kerry Hudson was asked to write her memoir, Lowborn: Growing Up, Getting Away and Returning to Britain's Poorest Towns, by her publisher.  She did so even though the idea scared her.  When she received the book deal, she wept, 'because', she says, 'I didn't know how to free myself from the tyranny of silence and the growing shame that came with that voicelessness, because I was terrified of writing this book and also terrified I'd have to live in this pretend sort of way forever if I didn't.'  T ...more
Nov 20, 2019 rated it liked it
I was slightly disappointed with this book - expected more political commentary which there was only a small amount of (passing reference to the effects of Brexit near the end hinted at what could have been). Instead it was more of a life story of the author and I feel that that’s been done better in books like “Educated” and especially “The Glass Castle” which is one of my favourites.
Would have liked to know more about what happened to the author’s mother and it could have benefited from some p
Stephen Baird
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first heard Kerry talk at a Vintage Roadshow at Forum Books, Corbridge before Christmas, this didn’t put me off though ;) and I was really fascinated by the concept of Lowborn.

Earlier this year I went to another Vintage Roadshow and was pleased to be able to pick up an advance copy of this.

It didn’t disappoint. It had me in tears, angry, upset, sad, but also laughing a lot due to the humour that came through.

It’s taken me a while (and a second reading, well worth it) to get my thoughts togethe
Jay Green
Dec 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
A painful past described with elegant, quietly unassuming poise.
Carlyn (The Bookworm Mum)
For starters, trigger warnings for pretty much everything but particularly - sexual assault, drug misuse, alcoholism, toxic mother/child relationships

I feel fairly conflicted about this. While I did think this was fairly good, and I don’t like to ”judge” anyone’s real life story, I just don’t see the revelation everyone else sees in this autobiography, and in my opinion, it is ‘just’ an autobiography. I really hoped it would say more, provide more research and evidence, look at correlation and w
From BBC radio 4 - Book of the week:
What does it really mean to be poor in Britain today? Kerry Hudson explores her own childhood, growing up in grinding poverty, and some of Britain's most deprived towns.

Kerry is an award winning novelist, with a love of travel, art, music and culture. Yet her life was not always like this, as she spent most of her childhood living through poverty with a single mother who was always on the move. Living in any flat or B&B they could afford, Kerry attended countl
Amanda Davis
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
I was expecting a bit more about what it was like growing up in poverty generally. I did enjoy the book but it was only Kerry’s story. I would have preferred her story growing up and then the revisit story rather than the forward and back chapters. Very brave though.
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I came across this book purely by chance whilst browsing Audible looking for something non-fiction. I hadn't heard of the author or the book before. I love books about social history, but generally those I read are from the 1930s or earlier so I decided to try something that happened within living memory - my living memory. Kerry was born in 1980, the year in which I turned 14.

This remarkable, brutally honest memoir starts in 1980 when the author, Kerry Hudson, was born in Aberdeen to a mother w
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Verdict: Story (depth of topic and execution) - 5/5
Memorability - 5/5
Enjoyment - 3/5
Writing - 5/5
Overall - 4.5/5

I found this a hard listen, which makes my 'enjoyment' score a little unfair. I don't know whether it's sleep deprivation or simply because I have a little baby myself now, but I felt so deeply sad listening to this. I'm privaledged in life to never have lived or witnessed true poverty. Or at least I grew up blissfully unaware. If you've ever deemed someone a scrounger, layabout or wor
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a difficult read for me, I found it quite triggering as it bought back bad memories of my own childhood. It really illustrates the lasting scars a bad childhood leaves on the adult survivor and in many ways it never leaves you, but you find a way to rise above it. Very thought provoking.
Jan 04, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read, an important look at crippling poverty in the UK. I felt I read it out of duty rather than enjoyment though.

An interesting read, an important look at crippling poverty in the UK. I felt I read it out of duty rather than enjoyment though.
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
‘I truly understood that it really was no one’s fault. That life is too messy to attribute blame so neatly. How can you blame ill and dysfunctional people living in an ill and dysfunctional society? How could I blame my mum when she was simply struggling herself? How could I blame my father when the stories I knew of his childhood pointed to terrible abandonment and abuse? Or blame my grandmother for just trying to live her life as well as she could though it was full of struggles? There was no ...more
Feb 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Lots of book reviewers I follow say that it's difficult to rate memoirs because it's almost like you are rating someone's personal experience. Generally, I just rate my enjoyment of spending time with a book and what effect it had on me. It's an interesting one with 'Lowborn'.

Kerry Hudson's memoir is structured as one past / one present, a chapter today and a chapter reminiscing or visiting place that she has lived in. I like the way it is written, I think it keeps a good balance between the per
Emily M
Aug 21, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: mother
This is a good book, but not for me. A shame, because I'm interested in honest depictions of poverty. But I have to conclude that the memoir genre leaves me cold. I'm seldom able to connect with people writing about themselves in this way -- it's as though they can't get enough outside of their own heads to paint a real picture of themselves as characters. I'm left on the margins, feeling guilty for not caring enough about clearly worthy individuals. So far this has happened reading memoirs of a ...more
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a heartbreaking chronicle of a gifted child who triumphs against adversarial odds to build a life for herself through strength, talent, and determination. The end--is only the beginning. I highly recommend this book!
Cara Mackay
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in fewer than 8 hours. The very real, harsh and heartbreaking life of Kerry. The truth is, if you grew up in Scotland 80s/90s and are now comfortable in your social security of life, raising a family, working a good job, enjoying the little luxuries. The probability of your childhood living hand to mouth is still high. With any luck your parents loved you and they were the best years. But for many poverty was rife; starving, cold and neglected kids. Kerry tells a story, a real f ...more
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Pretty much read this in one sitting. It’s a raw and brutal look at poverty through the prism of the author’s experiences.

I thought there might be more in the way of research and social commentary, but this is really a memoir that lays bare Hudson’s traumatic childhood and is more reflective of her young life than considering solutions to the grinding and endless drudgery of being very poor.

There are some deeply disturbing revelations and this is not a read for the faint-hearted, but the book
Apr 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is described as a book about the reality of poverty, and I know that's how the author sees it, but I think poverty is only a part of it. Having said that, there is so much poverty in this book and it shows so clearly how insecure accommodation, lack of clothing, inadequate food etc affect every aspect of a family's life.

But for me, the poverty was a minor part of this book. What I saw outstanding all the way through was the effects of generations of ill-health, illness and abusive beha
Apr 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Yet another book that I feel absolutely everyone should read. A memoir about experiences of poverty in the UK told from both a child perspective and adult revisiting the places she grew up in.
Oct 20, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction-reads
A very important read about growing up in poverty in the UK. One of the best memoirs I've read this year and I'd highly recommend anyone to read it. ...more
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'd read Kerry Hudson's first novel and liked it, but this journey back in memory to her troubled and impoverished childhood and forward visiting amd observing the same places today packs more punch. Aberdeen, Canterbury, Coatbridge, Hetton-in-the-Hole, Great Yarmouth - the sheer disruption is somehow rendered more understandable to the child by the familiarity of its constant features, like the cramped, often barely furnished accommodation. Or Mum's boyfriend, sending for them , then the blazin ...more
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
This book reminded me of Darren Garveys 'Poverty Safari' which is definitely high on my list of favourite books. Much like that, this book looked at poverty through a first person real narrative of growing up in that poverty. This book may have been less data focussed but that was replaced with more narrative, giving time a better understand of how it feels to grow up in these two similar ways. I can see myself coming back to this book in a few years time.

Read on many delayed trains.
Jenny Cooke (Bookish Shenanigans)
Such a moving and important memoir about the effects of poverty in Britain that is so often misunderstood, ridiculed and ignored.
Nov 16, 2022 rated it really liked it
This was a very quick and easy read, though the subject matter holds its own. The tone is very frank and conversational, and there's a powerful sense of honesty to it. It's very clear that Hudson's acceptance of all of these things is relatively new in terms of learning not to feel ashamed over it, and it adds a deeper sense of personality to the writing. Despite the seriousness of the things being described, it's almost nice to see her taking her history as her own, and learning that it isn't s ...more
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book because I read some of Kerry Hudson’s articles in The Pool and in The Guardian. She’s a fabulous writer, and I recognised in her writing some aspects of my own childhood (that could be me and my sisters on the cover!).
Reading some of the more negative reviews of this book actually shines a light on how those who have no idea of what it’s like to be poor continuously misrepresent and misunderstand poverty. There are plenty of reviews putting the blame resoundingly on Ms Hudson’
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Kerry Hudson was born in Aberdeen. Growing up in a succession of council estates, B&Bs and caravan parks provided her with a keen eye for idiosyncratic behaviour, material for life, and a love of travel.

Her first novel, TONY HOGAN BOUGHT ME AN ICE-CREAM FLOAT BEFORE HE STOLE MY MA, was published by Chatto & Windus in Summer 2012. It has since been shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, Sou

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“Here I was chasing my past, trying to piece things together but perhaps the real courage was in simply accepting the things that happen and learning to live with them.” 0 likes
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