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.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is such a different, powerful story, bringing together several elements to create a work that’s moving and inspiring.
Cussy Mary Carter and her father live as outcasts in the Kentucky hills, shunned because of their blue skin. Cussy’s father is a hard-working coal miner who suffers from lung disease. He’s determined to secure a safe future for Cussy by finding her a husband, despite her objections. Cussy loves her work as a pack horse librarian, riding miles through the mountains each day to bring books, magazines, recipes, and household instructional pamphlets to the isolated people along her route.
Meanwhile, Cussy faces horrible mistrust and discrimination whenever she ventures into the nearby town. While her library patrons cherish her and greet her with happy cries of “Book Woman” as she rides up on her mule, the townsfolk she interacts with at the library headquarters insult her and curse her to her face, barring her from society and segregating her because she is — literally — “colored”. And while a local doctor offers Cussy and her father some meager help and protection, it’s clear that he views them as medical oddities and pursues studying them not out of a desire to truly help, but as a way to further his own career.
There is just so much to love about this book. Cussy is a loving, caring person who understands that books can lift people up and change lives. Though the reading material available to the pack librarians is all donated and unpredictable, Cussy puts thought into which books to bring to which of her patrons, choosing carefully to find just the right subject matter to help or instruct or distract or inspire her readers. As we meet the people on her route, we see just how heartbreaking their living conditions are, as the poverty-stricken people starve to death before Cussy’s eyes, and where the only source of income is the mine company, which controls all aspects of people’s lives in the mountains.
Learning about the Blue People of Kentucky is fascinating, as is learning more about the impact of the Depression on an area of the country I really knew very little about. The author does a masterful job of introducing the factual, historical elements in a way that’s organic to the story, It never feels like a history lesson; rather, this book feels personal, as if we’re being let inside the lives of living, breathing people with a unique story to share.
With its mix of historical interest, the focus on the magic and power of books, and a strong, kind, memorable main character, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a delight to read. Highly recommended.
Title: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Author: Kim Michele Richardson
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: May 7, 2019
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley