The Forgotten Girls
A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America
By: Monica Potts
Narrator: Monica Potts
Random House Audio
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 05/30/2023
My Rating: 5 Stars (ARC)
An acclaimed journalist tries to understand how she escaped her small-town in Arkansas while her brilliant friend could not, and, in the process, illuminates the unemployment, drug abuse, sexism and evangelicalism killing poor, rural white women all over America.
Growing up gifted and working-class poor in the foothills of the Ozarks, Monica and Darci became fast friends. The girls bonded over a shared love of reading and learning, even as they navigated the challenges of their declining town and tumultuous family lives—broken marriages, alcohol abuse, and shuttered stores and factories. They pored over the giant map in their middle school classroom, tracing their fingers over the world that awaited them, vowing to escape. In the end, Monica left Clinton for college and fulfilled her dreams, but Darci, along with many in their circle of friends, did not.
Years later, working as a journalist covering poverty, Monica discovered what she already intuitively knew about the women in Arkansas: Their life expectancy had steeply declined—the sharpest such fall in a century. She returned to Clinton to report the story, trying to understand the societal factors driving the disturbing trends in the rural south. As she reconnects with Darci, she finds that her once talented and ambitious best friend is now a statistic: a single mother of two, addicted to meth and prescription drugs, jobless and nearly homeless. Painfully aware that Darci's fate could have been hers, she retraces the moments of decision and chance in each of their lives that led such similar women toward two such different destinies.
The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America by acclaimed journalist Monica Potts is a meticulously researched, haunting, insightful, yet sad account of lives lost to poverty that some cannot escape.
Potts expertly explores her life and how she escaped the limitations of a rural childhood; however, on the other hand, her friend did not, falling further into poverty, drugs, and despair.
The author wanted to understand why poor, uneducated white women were dying at higher rates than others. She returned to her Ozark hometown to live and work.
What was killing them? Study after study showed opiates, suicide, methamphetamines, smoking, etc. Why did drugs like meth take over in some places but not others? Why would painkillers kill poor, uneducated white people more than other groups?
Why did the rate of suicide rise and spread in rural areas faster than elsewhere? None of these questions had simple answers, but in trying to answer them, it took the author past research into the circumstances, accidents, and personal choices that fill and shape our lives.
Turns out she was looking for one person. Her friend, Darci. When Monica left home at age eighteen, Darci was kicked out of high school weeks before graduation. Before Monica left for college, they said their goodbyes at a funeral.
Two young girls with dreams. They both wanted careers. They wanted to be rich and famous. They wanted to be far away from Clinton. Nothing would stop them.
Monica could not wait to leave Clinton and the people in it. She tried not to think about the people she loved and the life she left behind. Darci's life had not gone as she had hoped.
When Monica finally did go back, she realized that her investigation would turn on all the questions science could not answer. What her best friend's life had been like after she left, and how she ended up in a trailer on top of Bee Branch Mountain.
We learn about their reconnection in 2015, and Monica did not realize how personal and emotional the journey would become. From layers of long-buried grief and pain of watching a loved one fall apart.
We see the girls as young children with much promise, and the exploration of the years after that took them apart. She would find the answers to those questions in the space that had grown between them.
Darci grew up with a mother who did not set boundaries.
Monica, on the other hand, had stricter rules and more grounded parents. The Potts family made their daughter's success a focus and moved them out of town to keep them away from the boys, drugs, and other things which prevented a good education. After that, a summer program and an elite college.
Whereas Darci became pregnant. Then a slow descent into drugs and alcohol forced her to drop out of school, spiraling downward into poverty, mental illness, domestic abuse, and incarceration.
The two girls/now women who were childhood friends found themselves in a different life with different outcomes.
Written with compassion and sensitivity, an illuminating, thought-provoking and engrossing portrait of the hopelessness we find across America in rural areas.
Well-researched, with extensive interviews with friends and family, a critical, insightful, beautifully written, and deeply affecting memoir.
I enjoyed reading the updates from 2019-2022 from these BFFs and what being best friends mean.
"That grief, and the larger, shared understanding of growing up where we had and wanting to get out, would always fill whatever space might grow between us." —THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS, Monica Potts
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
Pub Date: May 30, 2023
My Rating: 5 Stars
“A compelling sociological and cultural portrait that illuminates the silent hopelessness destroying not just [Potts’s] hometown, but rural communities across America. A hauntingly cleareyed and poignant memoir with strong, illustrative reportage.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A compassionate look at the rapid decline in life expectancy among “the least educated white Americans” . . . Potts draws on extensive interviews with friends and family to reveal how poverty, generational trauma, substance abuse, and the suffocating righteousness of the evangelical church limit women’s options in places like Clinton. . . . A potent study of what ails the depressed pockets of rural America.”
"The Forgotten Girls is much more than a memoir; it's the unflinching story of rural women trying to live in the most rugged, ultra-religious and left-behind places in America. Rendering what she sees with poignancy and whip-smart analyses, Monica Potts took a gutsy, open-hearted journey home and turned it into art.”
—Beth Macy, author of Dopesick and Raising Lazarus
“The Forgotten Girls is beautiful and hard, a deeply reported memoir of a place, a friendship, a childhood and a country riven by systemic injustices transformed into individual tragedies. Monica Potts is a gifted writer; I read this extraordinary story of friendship and sisterhood, ambition and loss in rural America in one sitting; it is propulsive, clear and really important.”
—Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad
“A troubling tale of heartland America in cardiac arrest, of friendship tested, of meth and Sonic burgers and every other kind of bad nourishment, of what we have let happen to our rural towns, and what they have invited on themselves. A personal and highly readable story about two women in a small cranny of America, but which offers an illuminating panorama of where our country stands.”
—Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland and The Least of Us
“A tender memoir of a lifelong friendship and a shocking account of hardship in rural America, The Forgotten Girls is beautifully written, painstakingly researched and deeply affecting.”
—Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
“In a landscape where writing grounded in true events is expected to be either objective reporting about events from which the writer is fully detached or confessional lived experience, Monica Potts has created a rare mix of reportage and memoir that brings the best of both forms to bear on an empathetic and nuanced examination, told from an insider's perspective, of what it means to be working class, white, and female in America today.”
—Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of The Third Rainbow Girl
“I couldn’t put it down. . . American culture has a toxic forgetting at its heart, a forgetting about communities that have lost their way and a blindness to why they fail. It made me think of so many people's lives in small towns and rural areas in Britain—a powerful reminder that when you forget about people and consign them to eternity in failing places, then you create something deeply harmful for all of us. It is an important book, raw and simple enough that you can’t help but feel it deeply.”
—James Rebanks, author of The Shepherd’s Life
About the Author
© Beth Hall Photography LLC
Monica Potts is a writer who returned to her hometown in northern Arkansas to work on a book, forthcoming from Penguin Random House. She is a former fellow with the New America Foundation. She writes about a variety of subjects, including poverty, politics, and culture. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The American Prospect, New York magazine, Vogue.com, The Daily Beast, The Trace, and Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. She is also a PostBourgie alum.