Hill Women by Cassie Chambers
Penguin Random House: 1/7/20
advanced reading copy; 304 pages
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.
My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.