Review: In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir

In the Shadow of the Valley: A Memoir by Bobi Conn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In an often heartbreaking memoir, author Bobi Conn captures the hard life in the Kentucky Appalachia, where so many struggle with a lack of opportunity and education, which in turn, all too often leads to substance abuse, domestic abuse, and criminal pursuit. Conn, raised in a family rife with substance, sexual, and domestic abuse, found school to be a valuable escape, providing her with an opportunity to build a fragile sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. Her dedication and excelling at school allowed her to escape the holler she was raised in and make her way to Berea College, eventually earning a master's degree and writing this memoir. It also created a schism in which her ability to bridge those two worlds- academia and the hollers she was raised in- finds her not quite fitting in either world. Judged for her accent and origins among "educated" people, she found her family and friends back home often reacted as if she now counted herself as better than them. Yet this memoir is a testament to the spirit and resilience of the people of the Appalachia, and in particular, a love letter to her grandmother, the one person in her life who offered her unconditional love and support.

With insights into the origins of both substance abuse and the opioid crisis in the Appalachia, and the terrible cycle of domestic violence, child abuse, and child sexual abuse, Bobi Conn paints a stark and poignant account of her life and how PTSD has often robbed her of her ability to safeguard herself. Having worked in the child welfare system for almost fifteen years, I found her account of how repeated abuse robs you of your ability to either expect or demand better treatment, robs you of your voice to self-advocate, or of your ability envision a path to a different life for yourself, as painful as it is authentic. Conn did eventually find her path to a better life, in large part because of her determination to make her children's lives better. 

This memoir is not for the faint of heart. I strongly recommend the audiobook, narrated by the author herself. With shimmering descriptions of the beauty and hardships of life in rural Kentucky, Conn's memoir captures a slice of American life more of us should know.

You can read an interview with this resilient woman at The Penmen Review

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In addition to this book, interested readers can watch this PBS News Hour examination of continuing poverty in Eastern Kentucky and the Kentucky Promise Zones, which are focusing on retraining of coal mine workers who have been displaced due to the industry losing traction to natural gas as a path out of dire poverty and despondency in the region. Additionally, Kentucky Educational Television has a multi-part series, The Price of Poverty in Kentucky that is worth exploring.

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Want to buy a copy of In the Shadow of the Valley from your local independent bookstore? Click HERE.

The digital audiobook of In the Shadow of the Valley is available solely from Audible Books. Click HERE. The Brilliance Audio CD audiobook is available from

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