By Cassie Chambers. (Ballantine Books, 304 pages, $27.)
In this engaging memoir, Cassie Chambers honors her eastern Kentucky mountain roots, especially the women in her exceedingly poor, plucky family of sharecroppers whose strength and wisdom nurtured her own rise to education and influence. After Yale, Harvard Law School and the London School of Economics, Chambers circled back to her mountain "holler" home to work as an attorney and political leader.
"I owed a debt of gratitude to the mountains, to the values and the people who had forged me," she writes. With humility and humor, Chambers tells not just her own story, but those of her parents, grandparents and other kin, as well as those of her clients, women who struggle to get schooling and work, escape abusive relationships and raise their children despite poverty, isolation, the opioid epidemic and a legal system that makes every action and transaction especially difficult. She describes how she and others helped pass a law that did away with a requirement for abused women to pay a jailed spouse's legal fees in order to get a divorce.
Chambers' story is especially effective because she tells it without outrage or indignation, rather with gratitude and pride. "You still got a piece of hillbilly in your heart," her rough-hewn aunt tells her. "Hill Women" is a fine memoir that shines light on an American region far too often denigrated and stereotyped.
The Third Rainbow Girl
By Emma Copley Eisenberg. (Hachette Books, 336 pages, $27.)
I was pretty sure I was going to love Emma Copley Eisenberg's true crime/memoir hybrid on page one, labeled "True Things" because some of the stories she is told as she looks into a 40-year-old double murder turn out to not be true and because lies, time and fallible memories make some truths unreachable. I was even surer when I reached a provocative notion on page four: "Every woman is a nonconsensual researcher looking into the word 'misogyny.' " And the deal was sealed when it became clear that, in addition to being a thorough reporter and creative thinker, Eisenberg is dryly funny, as in this bit about interstate relationships after the Civil War: "Virginia tried to sweet-talk West Virginia into getting back together, but West Virginia held strong."
The murder Eisenberg investigates is of two women hitchhiking to a 1980 West Virginia be-in. A local bully was convicted of the crime, but Eisenberg's gripping account offers a different solution, one rooted in the idea that injustice happens whenever we judge each other too quickly.