Melinda Clayton's Appalachian Justice
An inspiring book about courage and bravery set in the Appalachian mountains.
Serendipity is when you stumble across a book, buy it on the off-chance that it might be an interesting book and it turns out to be brilliant, a superb read. Appalachian Justice is such a rare find and I am itching to share it with y'all.
The novel is set in the Appalachian mountains in the 1940s and revolves around the life of Billy May Platte. It's mostly told in the unique voice of Billy May. Billy May, orphaned early in life, grows up in a small, remote mining town and learns the hard way that it is no place to be different: "We was sheltered in them hills. We didn't know much of nothin' about life outside of them mountains. I did not know the word lesbian; to us, gay meant havin' fun and queer meant somthin' strange."
Living as a hermit on the top of a mountain, she grows into a strong, resilient mountain woman until it is her call to help another young woman. And with that everything changes.
Melinda Clayton weaves a mesmerising tale of those remote mountains and the sturdy, self-reliant inhabitants and their communities where waters run deep, very deep indeed under the seemingly quiet surface of everyday life. The story and the characters are complex, rich and ooze a quiet strength. I especially loved how Clayton uses the voice of Billy May - dialect and all - to speak directly to the reader. And although the way Billy May expresses herself is rough because she lacks "proper" education, she has a deep understanding and an unusual education of the heart which captures the reader after a few pages. Once I started the book I didn't want to put it down and there were quite a few places where the narration stirred strong emotions and brought tears to my eyes.
This book is "real", it is real because it has the good and the bad, the beauty and the beasts. And although this book is about abuse, at times graphic abuse, at the core there is this quiet, positive, persistent message that wherever you are and whatever you experience, you can survive and not only survive but grow in the strong, wonderful person you were meant to be and have a content and happy life.
The same holds true for communities: There are "good people" everywhere and when called upon they'll rally and rise to the occasion.
The writing itself is exceptional, the story and the tension are well-developed and especially the weaving together of the three time-lines - the story of the young, middle aged Billy May and her final days - is masterfully done. You may have noticed by now: I can't recommend this book enough. When I contacted Melinda Clayton, a licensed psychotherapist, and asked her why she wrote this nook, her answer was "I have close friends and family members who have faced struggles due to their sexuality. It's heartbreaking (and enraging), watching people you love being treated unfairly. That was the drive behind the lesbian protagonist. An older gentleman contacted me a year ago to tell me Billy May had touched him and changed his way of thinking. Now that's about the best you can ever hope for! The abuse issues - and the propensity for hope - were inspired by clients I've worked with over the years. Their bravery and courage are an inspiration."
Appalachian Justice translates this courage and inspiration into words and from there into the hearts of readers.