The First 100 Pages: Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton

If the old saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” holds merit, it’s certainly true when it comes to the book I’m reading right now: Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton.  

At first glance, you’d probably think it is some type of mountain mystery or crime thriller.  You’d be partially correct.  The somewhat unappealing cover and the word “Justice” in the title probably throw you off.  I know it did me.  But when Robin Tidwell, owner of All On The Same Page Bookstore, put the book in my hands and I read the back I knew I had to read this book! At just 245 pages, I’m almost half way through and have not been disappointed.

It’s a beautiful and haunting story of a mountain woman named Billy May Platte.  Read the description for yourself:

Deep in the mountains of Appalachia, Billy May Platte learned the hard way that 1940s West Virginia was no place to be gay. ‘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 somethin’ strange.’ In 1945, when Billy May was fourteen years old and alone, three local boys witnessed an incident in which Billy May’s sexuality was called into question. Determined to teach her a lesson she would never forget, they orchestrated a brutal attack that changed the dynamics of the tiny coal mining village of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia forever. Thirty years after the brutal attack, living in solitude on top of Crutcher Mountain, Billy May discovers the hideout of a young girl – a girl who just happens to be the daughter of one of the boys who attacked Billy May so long ago. No one knows better than Billy May the telltale signs of abuse, and she must quickly make a decision. Will she withdraw into the solitude in which she has lived since the horrific attack, or will she risk everything to save the girl from a similar fate? In spite of the heartbreaking incidents that take place in the novel, the book is ultimately a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit and a celebration of the beauty of second chances. Underneath it all, Appalachian Justice is also a powerful love story, though certainly not a conventional one.

Surprised?  I was.

Clayton captures that slow backwoods drawl of Billy May perfectly.  I fell in love with her as a character on page one -so distant and fragile, but full of love.  I often go back and read long passages, some even out loud, because the writing is that good. The story trades chapters between 1975 and 2010.  In the 70s, Billy May is recalling her tragic childhood while also helping a young girl who has escaped to the mountain.  In current 2010, Billy May is old and in the hospital and her mind keeps wondering “back to the mountain.”

I am often reminded of movies or other books when reading something.  With this book, I recall ” The Accused” and “Nell,” both movies starring Jodie Foster.  If you haven’t seen them, look them up.  Both are brilliant.  And while you are at it, read Melinda Clayton’s book.  It is brilliant too!

More about it later when I post a full review after I’m finished reading it.

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