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Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassie Chambers

Huge thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: poverty, oppression, abuse.

Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars

Review:

Hill Women was an immediate NetGalley request because it encompassed a lot about Kentucky literacy, poverty, and growth, which have all been a topic of focus for me over the past year and change. When the request was accepted, I worked it into my review rotation, and funny enough, it came shortly after I finished The Giver of Stars. As I started reading Hill Women, I recognized a lot of information that I had researched post The Giver of Stars.

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To share, here are some facts and comparisons about Kentucky literacy.

  • Literacy rate in Kentucky, 1930s (the time period where Packhorse Libraries began in KY) – 31%
    • Population was about 2.6 million people
  • Literacy rate in Kentucky, 2019:
    • Level 1 (no or minimal ability to read) – 14%
      • About 34,000 people
    • Level 2 (up to a 5th grade reading level) – 26%
      • About 656,000 people
    • Population is about 4.5 million people
  • Compare 1930 literacy to today’s literacy rates:
    • Currently about 15% of Kentucky has the ability to read at a 5th grade level, which means Kentucky has cut their literacy rate by half in about 90 years.
  •  However, Kentucky ranks 45th / 50 states for education and literacy rates.

So now that you have a picture of what Kentucky literacy looks like, you can start to realize the importance of Chambers’ memoir, in which she recounts the impact of education on her family and the town she grew up in. Going into great detail of her past, Chambers discusses her family’s deep roots in Cow Creek, located in Owsley County (about 55 miles southeast from Berea, KY) and how poverty has stunted the educational growth of it’s citizens. Her papaw was a tobacco sharecropper, and her granny pinched every penny to keep her family afloat. Chamber’s granny encouraged her mother to go to school and eventually attend Berea College, in the hopes that it would give her a chance at a better life where they wouldn’t have to stretch every dollar to afford life’s necessities.

As Chambers continues, she shows how her grandmother, aunt, and mother shaped her own future, and how their mountain women strength kept her grounded in her roots as she searched for her own purpose. She delves into the pressure of what it feels like to fit into a place you’re not certain you belong, of going outside of your comfort zones, and how in the end, you have to be true to yourself instead of trying to be like everyone else. For Chambers, this lead to returning to Kentucky and becoming a defense lawyer for men and women in need.

Overall, I really enjoyed Chamber’s insight into the rural and rugged population of Kentucky. Her writing is factual and blunt, but embedded with strength, emotion, and honesty. It’s easy to see why her clients would want her defending them- she wants to see justice and genuine progress in a system that has oppressed many impoverished Kentucky residents for years. Her call for change is loud and clear, just as her pride in the hill women that have inspired her.

Expected Publication Date: January 7, 2020

Publisher: Ballantine Books

TL/DR: Hill Women by Cassie Chambers is a memoir about her roots in Eastern Kentucky, and the women who encouraged her education and aspirations for more in life.

Read it? Yes! It’s insightful and gives readers a chance to see what life is truly like in rural Appalachia.

Recommend it? Absolutely.

Buy it? I would certainly snag a copy for my personal collection!

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Categories: Book Review, Culture, Feminism, Kentucky Reads, Memoirs, Nonfiction

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5 replies

  1. I love how invested you are in learning about Kentucky and our history! Merry Christmas!

  2. Interesting! 🙌👍

Trackbacks

  1. Hill Women: A Discussion with Cassie Chambers - The Lexington Bookie
  2. Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains by Cassie Chambers — The Lexington Bookie – Truth Troubles

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