3 out of 4 stars
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A Mule, A Cow & 5 Jugs of Shine, written by K.E. Wimberley, tells the story of Minnie Leigh Robertson, a thirteen-year-old girl living in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. She was traded for a piece of land by her father to a man named Tolbert. Tolbert was an ambitious, lazy man who made moonshine for a living. He believed women should be ruled by men and treated no better than livestock. His purpose in taking Minnie Leigh was not to marry her but to make her fix up his broken-down cabin and plant his garden. His real interest was a girl named Lilly Mae. Lilly Mae’s father owned some land that Tolbert wanted, but he had to get his own property in good shape to convince her father to let him marry her. So, Minnie Leigh slaved away on the house and the garden in addition to being beaten and raped. Then, he sold her to an acquaintance named Ishmael for a mule, a cow, and five jugs of shine. What will happen to Minnie Leigh as she tries to survive while living with her new “husband”? Will she ever get a life for herself that is free from abuse?
The author lives in eastern Tennessee, and the story is based on the true-life events of someone she met there. Ms. Wimberley is superb in her ability to bring Minnie Leigh to life for us to know. She is able to take the reader into the mountains and show them what it was like to live there in the first half of the twentieth century. The book starts with a prologue in which she explains the history of the area. This helps us to understand why life there was different. Also, history is woven throughout the story—from World War 1, to the Great Depression, to World War II. Ms. Wimberley makes it very interesting while giving us information at the same time. The first two chapters are written in first person. The rest of the book is written in third person.
A lot of the dialogue in this story was written in the Appalachian dialect and was quite charming, although it may be difficult for someone unfamiliar with it to understand at first. As the story goes on, it gradually loses the dialect.
My favorite part of the book was Minnie Leigh. She was brave, had faith, and worked hard, but she was also a little sassy. When her father sold her, Minnie Leigh was confused and depressed. However, even when going through hardships and adventures, she always tried to be herself. This was especially difficult after leaving the mountains because of feeling different from those around her. Her father made a living making moonshine and selling it. So, dancing and sipping moonshine (which she did a lot while growing up) felt natural, and she thought nothing of it. Her friend thought Minnie Leigh must be a “loose woman” because she enjoyed sipping moonshine and dancing. This depressed her and affected her self-confidence because their thinking was so dissimilar. She became more self-assured as the story progressed.
There was faith woven throughout the story. Even though Minnie Leigh didn’t go to church, she took a walk every morning and talked to God. Gratitude was felt in her heart for things that went right and remorse was experienced for questioning him when things went wrong.
Women were treated as second class citizens in the mountains in those days, and this was evidenced by the fact that her father sold her for a piece of land. Tolbert’s statement exemplified this as well, “You’ins is a female. What you say don’t ‘mount to a hill of beans less’in’ a man says it does!” It is so good to know this has changed in most of the world, but, unfortunately, this is not true everywhere.
Regrettably, there were far too many flaws, and that was my least favorite aspect of the story. This usually took the form of misspelled words and punctuation errors. It could use a professional editor.
Although this book was excellent in its portrayal of the history of Minnie Leigh, I am forced to take away a star because of the errors. Therefore, the story gets 3 out of 4 stars.
People who enjoy reading about life in the Great Smoky Mountains during the first half of the twentieth century would enjoy this book. Readers who like dramas and uplifting stories dealing with faith would also appreciate it. Fast-paced novel and thriller enthusiasts might want to skip this story. Because of descriptions of rape and physical abuse in the book, I don’t think it is suitable for children.
A mule, a cow and 5 Jugs of Shine
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