Title: The Book Woman’s Daughter
Author: Kim Michele Richardson
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: May 3, 2022
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Bestselling historical fiction author Kim Michele Richardson is back with the perfect book club read following Honey Lovett, the daughter of the beloved Troublesome book woman, who must fight for her own independence with the help of the women who guide her and the books that set her free.
In the ruggedness of the beautiful Kentucky mountains, Honey Lovett has always known that the old ways can make a hard life harder. As the daughter of the famed blue-skinned, Troublesome Creek packhorse librarian, Honey and her family have been hiding from the law all her life. But when her mother and father are imprisoned, Honey realizes she must fight to stay free, or risk being sent away for good.
Picking up her mother’s old packhorse library route, Honey begins to deliver books to the remote hollers of Appalachia. Honey is looking to prove that she doesn’t need anyone telling her how to survive. But the route can be treacherous, and some folks aren’t as keen to let a woman pave her own way.
If Honey wants to bring the freedom books provide to the families who need it most, she’s going to have to fight for her place, and along the way, learn that the extraordinary women who run the hills and hollers can make all the difference in the world.
I loved the 2019 novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, and was excited to hear that a sequel would be released this year. Sadly, The Book Woman’s Daughter doesn’t quite live up to the first book.
The story picks up about 15 years after the end of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. The first book’s main character, Cussy Mary Lovett, and her husband Jackson are raising their adopted daughter Honey in the backcountry hills — but the people of Kentucky have a long memory, and, it seems clears, a long-lasting capacity for hatred.
Cussy Mary is a Blue, one of the clan of Kentucky Appalachian dwellers with a genetic condition that gives them blue skin. The Blues are despised by white Kentuckians and are viewed as “colored” — and because Cussy is married to a white man, the two are accused of miscegenation. Although they live in isolation in the back woods, the law still catches up with them. As The Book Woman’s Daughter opens, Honey’s parents are arrested, treated violently, and soon thereafter sentenced to two years each in prison.
The law isn’t done with the family, though. Honey, at age 16, is a minor. The county has issued an order for Honey to be taken into custody and sent to a reform institution, where she can be held until age 21, doing hard labor and essentially a prisoner of the state. Honey makes a last-minute escape from the sheriff and social worker who come to seize her, and from there, must depend on the kindness and support of the mountain folk who loved her parents, including an old woman who assumes guardianship of Honey and a moonshiner whose family offers her shelter.
Things don’t go well for Honey, and she’s repeatedly forced to find new ways to survive and support herself, eventually taking up her mother’s former profession as a pack horse librarian. As the area’s new Book Woman, Honey travels the trails and mountains on her mule, but encounters trouble even there as she becomes embroiled in the struggles of a woman suffering abuse at her husband’s hands.
The book follows Honey’s efforts to find a place for herself, protect herself, and ultimately seek emancipation in order to keep herself out of the clutches of the state that wants to lock her up. Her journey involves some terrible experiences and danger, but she also finds new friends along the way and gains a better understanding of the plight of women in that time and place.
The Book Woman’s Daughter introduces us to the world of Appalachia in the mid-1950s, clearly not a welcoming world for women, especially those who don’t fit the traditional mold. It’s a place of economic woes, with children starving in the backcountry and men (and the occasional women) sacrificing their health to the coal mines — the only option for those seeking work and wages.
Honey is an endearing character, and I appreciated her determination, her commitment to her parents and her love of family, and her sense of right and wrong.
I did feel that the book lacks in terms of bringing the setting to life. I suppose there’s an assumption on the part of the author that readers will have read the first book, but even as someone who had read it, I would have liked this book to spend a little more time describing the way of life, the landscape, and the overall sense of the time and place. Instead, we’re dropped into a setting that doesn’t get fleshed out enough, and I always felts something was missing.
My other quibble with this book is a certain flatness. The events move along, and some are moving or frightening, but overall, I couldn’t quite get emotionally engaged. Honey’s parents are almost entirely off the page, which is a shame — they’re the connection to the first book, but they’re rarely seen, and this second book doesn’t create enough of a link back to their story.
I’m still glad to have read The Book Woman’s Daughter, but it didn’t capture my feelings or imagination the way The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek did. Still, for those who read the first book, it’s worth reading this follow-up to see what happens next for the family.