Sunday, January 5, 2020

Hill Women

Hill Women by Cassie Chambers
Penguin Random House: 1/7/20
advanced reading copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781984818911

Hill Women by Cassie Chambers is a recommended biography of the author, with nods to her female relatives in the Appalachian Mountains.

Cassie Chambers' family has their roots in the Appalachian county of Owsley, one of the poorest counties in Kentucky. Her mother, Wilma, grew up there and her Granny and Aunt Ruth stayed there. Ruth was a tobacco farmer for years, staying on the farm. Wilma was the 6th child in her family and the first to graduate from high school and go to college. When Wilma married at nineteen and had Cassie, she went on to finish school. Cassie often spent time in Owsley on the farm as a child. While her parents, young college students, went to school an hour away, her Granny and Aunt Ruth took care of her. Cassie went on to earn degrees from Yale and Harvard Law School. Afterward law school she returned to Kentucky to help impoverished women with free legal services.

The first part of this novel documents Cassie's early years and the history of her family, especially the women, in Owsley County. She describes the struggles, domestic violence, water pollution, and poverty present as well as the resourcefulness of the residents to make a living. The current opioid epidemic is mentioned but not covered in depth. This is really a biography of Cassie, with stories about her female relatives interwoven into her story. Once Cassie went on to higher education, much of the appeal of her account diminished. There are a plethora of books about people going on to higher education and Ivy League schools who feel out of place and like they don't fit in.

The latter part of the biography becomes more political and suddenly changes tone. Much to my chagrin, I didn't realize that Chambers is a member of the Democratic National Committee or I would have passed on reviewing this biography. There is enough divisiveness and derision in the news, so I'd like to avoid it when possible in my reading. Once the book took on a political stance, I lost interest. Cassie's own story was not as interesting as the life of previous generations and I was reading for the story of hill women, not Cassie in particular.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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