The Forgotten Girls [Book]

The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America, written by Clinton (Van Buren County) native Monica Potts, was released on May 30, 2023, to critical acclaim. The memoir recounts Potts’s personal experience reconnecting with childhood friend Darci Brawner over a period of years after returning to her hometown of Clinton. Within its first week, it appeared on the New York Times bestsellers’ list. In the book, Potts connects moments of her life, Brawner’s life, and the lives of other members of their community with larger studies and data pertaining to the experience of living in rural America.

Monica Potts was born and raised in Clinton. After graduating from high school, she attended Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She graduated with a BA in anthropology in 2002, followed by an MS in journalism from Columbia University in 2006. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the New Republic, among other publications, as well as on NPR. She has been a New America fellow and a senior writer with the American Prospect magazine.

Potts’s memoir places her life’s trajectory in contrast to her childhood friend’s. While Potts was able to leave Clinton, attend a prestigious college, and pursue a journalism career in New York City and Washington DC, Brawner faced job and housing insecurity, became a parent early in life, and struggled with addiction. Potts examines their diverging paths through interviews with Brawner, examination of her own and Brawner’s journals, and interviews with other members of the community.

Prior to beginning the book project, Potts had reported on an epidemic of falling life expectancy among the least educated, and often rural, white people in America. This work as well as additional secondary research is highlighted in the memoir. These “deaths of despair,” as described by Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, appeared pervasive in Potts’s home community of Clinton. In the memoir Potts couples this research with her journalistic work in the community. She also discusses her guilt for leaving Clinton and these “forgotten girls” behind and describes what it was like to return to Clinton in the 2010s.

Reviews were largely positive. The Guardian described the book as “elegiac” and a “lament for lost opportunities and wasted lives; a controlled expression of rage at a system that continues to fail so many even as it exploits their despair.” In several reviews, Potts’s book is placed alongside memoirs like Tara Westover’s Educated.

Potts ultimately finds that without reckoning with the systemic issues that plague rural communities like Clinton, “rural America won’t be able to break out of the cycle of despair.” She points to specific issues of sexism, lack of opportunity, and religious dogma forcing a culture of moral binaries as central to the crises facing those affected. Potts lives in Clinton and is senior politics reporter for the website FiveThirtyEight.

For additional information:
Detrow, Scott. “White Women in Rural American Are Dying. This Memoir Examines Why.” All Things Considered, NPR, April 19, 2023. (accessed September 7, 2023).

Merritt, Stephanie. “The Forgotten Girls by Monica Potts Review—Addiction and Escape in the Ozarks.” Guardian, April 10, 2023. (accessed September 7, 2023).

Monica Potts. (accessed September 7, 2023)

Potts, Monica. The Forgotten Girls: A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America. New York: Random House, 2023.

———. “How Rural America Steals Girls’ Futures.” Atlantic, April 6, 2023. (accessed September 7, 2023).

Snyder, Rachel Louise. “Young, White, Female and Dying of Despair in Rural America.” New York Times, April 17, 2023. (accessed September 7, 2023).

Spindel, Barbara. “‘The Forgotten Girls’ Review: The Friend Who Was Left Behind.” Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2023. (accessed September 7, 2023).

Danielle T. Afsordeh
Little Rock, Arkansas


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