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{August 13, 2012}   {Review} Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton

From Goodreads: Billy May Platte is a half Irish, half Cherokee Appalachian woman who learned the hard way that 1940s West Virginia was no place to be gay.  As Billy May explains, “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 orphaned, 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. Everyone, from Gerald Smith, the elderly owner of Smith’s General Store, to Sue Ann Leary, the spoiled daughter of the town’s only doctor, to Corinne Pruitt, Billy May’s childhood friend, was affected by the event in ways they could never have anticipated.

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?

Billy May’s choices will once again change not only her own future, but the future of Cedar Hollow as well, and certainly the future of the young girl. Billy May tells us her story in her own words, as she lays dying in a hospice in Huntington, West Virginia in the spring of 2010. “From the top of my mountain, I seen that girl runnin’,” she remembers, “and I understood even then that my decisions might very well be the death of me.”

Appalachian Justice 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.


I really enjoyed this novel.  Though it deals with sexual abuse and I tend to shy away from novels with this topic, the premise and the delicacy with which Clayton treats it made the story an enticing must read.  It’s extremely well written, jumping between the past and present, following the lives of different characters as everything unfolds.  It draws the reader in from the very beginning as the mystery surrounding Billy May’s life is presented, and I found it to be impossible to put down.

I loved the depiction of all the characters, and though I hated some of them due to their treatment of women and those around them in general, I have to say that Clayton wrote all her characters to be extremely convincing, and I just loved the believability of the dialogue through the dialect.  Clayton does such an amazing job with her characters that my hatred was palpable on many an occasion, as was my fear for Billy May and the other abused women of the story.  I really felt a kindred with the female characters, and rooted for them the entire way, which is something I can’t say for most novels I read.

While this novel deals with the very heavy topics of rape and abuse, it’s really a story of healing, and I loved that Clayton doesn’t explicitly portray the abuse.  The allusions are there, but it’s lightly prodded, giving the reader an obvious idea of what is happening, but not to a blatant extent.  I hate novels that have to detail every gruesome thing that happens, and thankfully, Clayton doesn’t do that.  And, though it’s a sad tale, it has an great ending that, though a bit grisly, is exactly what the readers wants/needs to happen.  I cheered aloud when everything came to a head and the smoke cleared… Clayton really did a great job. Four stars.


4 starsI received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review.


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