STARRED REVIEW
January 2020

Hill Women

By Cassie Chambers
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As a child, Cassie Chambers spent many nights with her grandparents and aunt deep in the mountains of Owsley County, Kentucky, because her young parents were university students who couldn’t afford day care. “I was at peace in this holler in the hills,” Chambers writes, describing the time she spent helping her family of tobacco sharecroppers while her parents earned degrees at Berea College.

Destined to be compared to Hillbilly Elegy and Educated, Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains is a quietly moving, powerful memoir in which Chambers shares her family’s story while praising the fortitude, intelligence and strength of Appalachian women. Unlike Tara Westover’s parents in Educated, Chambers’ parents deeply understood education’s importance, imbuing Chambers with a fierce drive that led her to Yale College, the Yale School of Public Health, the London School of Economics and Harvard Law School. She recounts moments of homesickness and feeling like an outsider, such as when her mother expressed concern about her spending habits at Yale, and Chambers shamefully told her, “You don’t understand. Everyone has a Burberry scarf.” 

Ultimately, Chambers returned to Kentucky to practice law and help domestic violence survivors, often meeting clients in gas stations, Dairy Queens and other fast-food restaurants. She notes that this experience has been “a powerful reminder about the importance of telling women’s stories” and that “when given the right tools, support, and environment, these women are capable of changing the world.” Chambers has also ventured into politics since returning to Kentucky. She became the vice chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party, admitting that “after November 2016, I realized in a whole new way that elections mattered. It wasn’t enough to save the world one family at a time.”

Never didactic or dull, Chambers is particularly skillful at sharing her family’s narrative while weaving in facts and commentary about Appalachian sociology, education, health, economics and politics. Most of all, the author’s love and respect for her Granny (married at age 15 to a man she had known for a few months), mother (married at 18, the first in her family to graduate high school or college) and Aunt Ruth (an independent woman who married in her 40s) shine through, brightening each page like a welcoming front porch light.

In this age of political divisions, Hill Women offers a loving, luminous look at an often misunderstood and undervalued segment of our society.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our interview with Cassie Chambers, author of Hill Women.

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Hill Women

Hill Women

By Cassie Chambers
Ballantine
ISBN 9781984818911

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