Title: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author: Kim Michele Richardson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Format Read: ebook
Standalone or series: standalone
Where I got the book: NetGalley ARC
Date finished reading: May 8, 2019
Goodreads Description: “Richardson’s latest work is a hauntingly atmospheric love letter to the first mobile library in Kentucky and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and – just as importantly – a compassionate human connection. Richardson’s rendering of stark poverty against the ferocity of the human spirit is irresistible. Add to this the history of the unique and oppressed blue-skinned people of Kentucky, and you’ve got an un-put-downable work that holds real cultural significance.” – Sara Gruen, #1 NYT bestselling author
In 1936, tucked deep into the woods of Troublesome Creek, KY, lives blue-skinned 19-year-old Cussy Carter, the last living female of the rare Blue People ancestry. The lonely young Appalachian woman joins the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky and becomes a librarian, riding across slippery creek beds and up treacherous mountains on her faithful mule to deliver books and other reading material to the impoverished hill people of Eastern Kentucky.
Along her dangerous route, Cussy, known to the mountain folk as Bluet, confronts those suspicious of her damselfly-blue skin and the government’s new book program. She befriends hardscrabble and complex fellow Kentuckians, and is fiercely determined to bring comfort and joy, instill literacy, and give to those who have nothing, a bookly respite, a fleeting retreat to faraway lands.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a powerful message about how the written word affects people–a story of hope and heartbreak, raw courage and strength splintered with poverty and oppression, and one woman’s chances beyond the darkly hollows. Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek showcases a bold and unique tale of the Pack horse Librarians in literary novels — a story of fierce strength and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere — even back home.
My Review: I received an ARC copy of this book via NetGalley. I found this story both fascinating and heartwrenching. I had never heard of the blue people of Kentucky or methemoglobinemia, which I found interesting. However, these people with such a unique medical condition just fueled an already prejudicial and racist society in Kentucky. This story focuses on one such person, named Cussy Mary or Bluet, who won the hearts of many of the hill folk in Troublesome Creek by delivering reading materials as her job as a Pack Horse Librarian. She shared her love of literature, but also tried to teach the people how different reading material could be useful in their homes, that these reading materials could be methods of educating people how to hunt, garden, cook, sew, etc. Cussy Mary put her heart and soul into trying to enrich these people’s lives and also save them from starvation and other ailments that were common in those parts.
Impoverishment and starvation were not the only hardships. If the men had jobs, it was most likely in the mines. Cussy Mary would worry about her father’s safety in the mines, a job that contained long, grueling work hours and life-risking tasks.
(Trigger Warnings for violence and sexual assault.) Cussy Mary’s every day life was a terrifying one. She was mistreated both physically and verbally by many townsfolk because of the color of her skin. I feared for her safety through the whole book as she traveled the path delivering the library materials all alone. I absolutely adored her mule (the one blessing she got out of her miserable marriage), who did try to protect her on multiple occasions.
Without giving too much away, after an incident happened at the home of Cussy Mary and her father, her father made a deal with the town’s doctor that the doctor could run medical tests on Cussy Mary to try to understand why she was blue. This led to him diagnosing her condition. After experiencing so much pain and hurt, the doctor didn’t have to spend too much time convinced Cussy Mary to take some medication that would turn her skin white even though this medication would make her sick. She thought she could have a normal life if she was white, that the townspeople would accept her as one of their own, but they didn’t.
The books displays so many harsh realities of poverty, starvation, vanity, racism and hate, but it also shares a story of the power of literature, which brings hope to the suffering, and the loving bond that connects the librarian to her patrons and friends, who don’t see the color of her skin but see her simply as the Book Woman. I loved this story so much. It was sweet and powerful. I would give it a full 5 stars, but it made me cry so much and had hoped for a happier ending. Despite this, I highly recommend this book.
My Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ½