Billy May Platte found out the hard way that 1940s Appalachia was no place to be gay. In 1945, when she was 14 years old and orphaned, a gang of local boys witnessed an event that called her sexuality into question. They orchestrated a brutal attack that changed the dynamics of Cedar Hollow, West Virginia forever.
In memoir form, Appalachian Justice tells the story of Billy May Platte, a hardscrabble Appalachian woman who was brutally attacked as a young girl. Following the attack, Billy May chose to live in seclusion in a tiny hunting cabin on top of Crutcher Mountain.
Many years later, upon finding the hideout of a young girl, she's faced with a multitude of decisions. Will she come out of hiding to help the girl? Or remain in seclusion? Her decisions could lead to a second chance at life - if she survives.
Crutcher Mountain, 1975
That next mornin’, the one after I first seen the girl, I was up before sunrise hit the mountain, buildin’ a small fire in the stove to ward off the early mornin’ chill. It would warm up later, but in the mornin’s there was already a nip in the air, particularly in the hours just before dawn, a sign of things to come in the winter ahead.
Takin’ note of the activity around me, I was anticipatin’ a hard one. The migratory birds was already takin’ flight and the four-legged critters of the woods was in a flurry of activity, hoardin’, storin’, or eatin’ as their species required. I watched these things. I had learned long ago that the animals knew more than I did, and it behooved me to pay attention.
While the water boiled for coffee I dressed in the same flannel shirt and dungarees I’d worn the day before, pullin’ my work boots on over wool socks and lacin’ them with stiff fingers. Rummagin’ through the steamer trunk at the foot of the cabin’s only bed, I pulled out an old flour sack into which I threw some bread and cheese, a quilt and a box of matches.
My preparations completed, I stood at the cabin’s lone window in the cabin’s single room, warmin’ my hands on my coffee mug, takin’ turns blowin’ on and drinkin’ the strong, black drink, tryin’ to get a handle on my thoughts.
Mall sios, beag amhain, I heard my daddy’s laughin’ voice in my head. Slow down, little one, he would say to me, his Irish accent so different from the mountain twang around us.
Smaoinigh sula gniomhu tu. Think before you act, Billy May. I’m tryin’ Daddy, I thought right back at him. But you know I ain’t never been good at waitin’. I sipped my coffee and pushed my daddy out of my head. If he wanted me to think, I needed room to do it.
An Absolute Must Read, Tracy Riva, Midwest Book Review
Rarely has a character stuck in my head the way Billy May Platte of Appalachian Justice has. Melinda Clayton does such a rich job with the character you can hear her speaking plain as day by the end of her first chapter and her voices resonates long after she leaves the pages of the book behind. Other characters in the book are just as deeply drawn out, especially the antagonist who will make your skin crawl, almost literally.
Appalachian Justice is a tale of the cost of prejudice, the value of love and the price of courage. It is the story of everyday characters who happen to be settled in the Appalachian mountains during a period of time from the forties through modern day, though the vast majority of the story covers two critical times, one, a single day in the life of Billy May Platte that would change her forever, the other a few critical weeks, in the lives of four families that will once again change the face of the small mountain town and the lives of those living in it.
Appalachian Justice is visceral, reaching out to grab your emotions and senses from the first pages until the last. The tension is well-developed growing exponentially until it finally reaches the breaking point. It is a wonderful debut album for Melinda Clayton and deserves to be read by every family trying to teach tolerance and the cost of prejudice. The story, set in the past unfortunately still happens today in community after community, most of which aren't able to find a little Appalachian Justice.
Open the pages, but be prepared, while Appalachian Justice works to break down barriers and to bring about understanding of a few key issues it is raw and at times violent though both factors are critical to the story and are not done simply for shock value. It is a critical story for our time and for the ages to come, by reading it we may evolve enough as a people to never need Appalachian Justice.
A Review by Mind Fog Reviews via Author Meeting Place
Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton tells the story of a Wilhelmina Platte a.k.a. Billy May from the time when her dad died in the mines to her death and everything in between. It shows the ugly side of people as well as the compassionate side. It also has the lesson that people will help if you let them in.
I have to confess I love the format that this story is written in. It's told from Billy May's memories as she is dying. Sifting through her memoires is like reading a diary. The characters are well rounded and they jump at you throughout the story. When she is remembering the mountain itself you can picture it in your mind very easily. There were times (especially toward the end) that I felt I was there.
Melinda Clayton did a wonderful job and I hope to read more of her work.
Carol Langstroth, Manager
Mind Fog Reviews
Stunning debut novel, Robin Landry, author of
Disclosure: I requested a review copy of this book by the author after reading a short blurb on it.
Once in a while a reader gets to be one of the first to discover a new writer. I just finished Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton, and I'm still reeling from the experience. For me a good novel is all about the characters and Clayton has created a main character I will never forget.
Set in the hills of West Virginia in a small mining town, Appalachian Justice brings to life characters who are as real as anyone I've ever known. I feel like I know and love Billy May the main character, a woman of such depth that I'm sad I have to leave her life now that the book is finished.
Sure a good story is important, and Clayton knows how to keep the tension taunt, but what's a great story without characters you can love and cheer for, and characters you hate with equal passion? Using her work as a psychotherapist, Clayton delves into the lives of characters until they are ready to spring from the pages of her novel fully formed to walk and talk in the real world.
I feel as though I've just discovered Jodi Picoult, or John Grisham, two of my favorite authors for character development. I'm going to recommend this book to all my reading friends, and I'm sure they'll thank me for it. The only way this book could be better is if it had a readers guide at the end, because this is the sort of book you could discuss endlessly because of the both the storyline and the wonderful characters.
I'll be looking forward to the next book by Melinda Clayton a rising star in the literary world.