The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on May 7, 2019
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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.
TW: death, racial prejudice, rape, sexual assault.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a fabulous book. It’s very narrow in focus, which I think is what gave the author the ability to drop her readers into 1920s backwoods Kentucky in such a believable way. The blue skinned people of Kentucky and the Pack Horse Librarian Project are both from real history and it was just a real treat to read about something so real and yet so unknown.
“I was to stay put, and exactly where they wanted to keep me put. Beneath them. Always and alone.”
I loved Cussy. She’s had the short end of the stick in life, but she hasn’t let it completely beat her down. She loves her books, and her father, and despite things really looking dim she refuses to give up hope of a better life. Cussy is nineteen years old, with blue skin, in a society that beats her down for both. Looked at as basically “worse than colored,” her father is desperate to get her married since he knows his own days are numbered, due to being a miner and afflicted with black lung. He fears for her and this is the only way he can (he thinks) be sure she is taken care of and provided for after he is gone. His plan does not work out well for Cussy, and only stirs things with the local people that already look at both of them as outcasts.
Despite all the odds against her, Cussy finds a huge solace in her job as a “book woman,” one of the several female librarians who take books to the VERY farflung mountain people. She is so passionate about literacy, and helping all her patrons better themselves. My heart hurt as she constantly ran up against prejudice, not just for her oddly-colored skin but for just being a woman. Even the local doctor (someone who is supposed to be about HELPING people) is more interested in her for his ulterior reasons of figuring out her blue skin – no matter what her thoughts on the matter.
I also really loved that eventually, Cussy meets someone who hasn’t always lived in the hollers. Just as her mind has been expanded by books even though she’s never been outside Kentucky, the stranger has both traveled (extensively, by local standards) and read, and he treats her as a person regardless of her skin or gender. There isn’t really a HEA, but there is hope, and to me that is even more important.
This book was SO important to me on a personal level. My family – on both sides – is from the hills and hollers of West Virginia. My parents were the first generation to move outside the same county for over a hundred years, outside the state EVER. I grew up all over the United States and the world but I am still extremely conscious of my Appalachian roots, and sadly very little has changed in many areas where my extended family still lives. They – we – need more people like Cussy.
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