August 16, 2019
Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, Southern Fiction, Book About Books, Racism, Prejudice, Poverty
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In the 1930s, nineteen-year-old Cussy Carter and her father live in the isolated woods of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. They are the last of the “blue people” of Kentucky and endure racism and prejudice because of the blue hue of their skin. They are considered “colored.” Dad risks his life and health working long hours in the coal mines and Cussy takes a government job with the historical Pack Horse Library Project. As a “librarian,” she travels across treacherous mountains and dangerous creeks on her mule, Junia, to deliver books and other reading materials to the mountain folk who have few resources. She does what she can to meet their most dire needs. Incidentally, she doesn’t cuss! (She’s named after a town in France.)
Early Amazon Rating (August): 4.7 Stars
Calling All Histfic Genre Readers!
Checks all my boxes: First, I need to say that as soon as I read the last word of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, I added this to my best of the year list! (Thank you Jennifer-Tar Heel Reader for the rec!) I’m confident it won’t be bumped because, trust me, it’s that good.
- Unforgettable character
- Memorable setting
- Thought-provoking and important themes
- Historical lessons to learn
- Emotional connections
- Engaging page-turner
- “Wow” factor
Character: Cussy (or Bluet as she is called by some) is everything I love in a fictional character! Determined. Compassionate. Smart. Brave. Resourceful. Fierce. A difference-maker. Merciful. Passionate about her work. A librarian. And most memorably, an Angel in disguise. In addition to delivering books, she distributes encouragement, friendship, first aid, hope, and plants seeds of literacy and nourishes its growth. In addition to the donated books from the WPA program, she creates her own scrapbook-type books of recipes, collected poems, and handy hints for everything from simple repairs to fishing and circulates these handmade books among the mountain folk to pique their interest in literacy. Cussy is a likable character and a bright light in the harsh reality of Troublesome Creek. Librarians will love her!
Three important historical lessons are the focus:
- The ignorance of racism/prejudice and the tragic consequences (the “blue” people experienced racism and prejudice and cruelty in the same ways as blacks).
- The government program (WPA) that created the Pack Librarian jobs (its limitations and benefits).
- The medical explanation for the “blue” people of Kentucky (a blood disorder) and the early experimental medical treatment.
A book about books: Yes, this is one of my favorite tropes!
A “laugh out loud” passage recounts the feelings of a dad who wants to keep “the book woman” and her books away from his house because books are making his family lazy:
John went on, “The young’uns won’t do their chores, and yesterday, Martha Hannah was nearly an hour late with my supper. An Hour! Them books are doing that–surely making them lazy. The girls are letting the laundry an’ sewing pile up around their ears, and the boys are reading at the creek when they ought to be fishing and working the garden. Plumb can’t get ’em to work ’cause they’s so busy sitting and reading them foolish books you’re bent on bringing. And I can’t have it. Won’t have it.”
Will Cussy be able to change his mind about books and reading?
Themes: Thoughtful themes abound in this story: father/daughter relationship, poverty, hardships of mineworkers, neighbor helping neighbor, absence of assistance programs for the poor, racism/prejudice, interracial relationships, kindness to neighbors, isolated/mountain environment and living, survival, hope, literacy, the plight of children, and found family. I think the author shows a great deal of compassion and concern for the children in the story and writes about them in heartfelt and poignant ways.
Is it too early to begin a Best of Year List?!
Recommended! The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is not an easy book to read, but it comes with my wholehearted recommendation for readers who look for unforgettable and inspirational characters, for histfic fans who are interested in historical facts about life in the Kentucky mountains in the 30s (specifically, mining, racism, the “blue” people, and the Pack Librarian program), for those searching for their next great read, and definitely for book clubs! For me, this is a five-star read because it gave me a book hangover.
You might think twice if you prefer not to read about the dire consequences of extreme poverty and hunger, racism, or life under difficult conditions.
I did hear from one person that the dialect made for difficult listening in the audio version. Download a sample first to see what you think.
My Rating: 5 Stars (and already on my best of the year list)
Meet the Author, Kim Michele Richardson
Kim Michele Richardson lives in Kentucky and resides part-time in Western North Carolina. She has volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, building houses, and is an advocate for the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence, partnering with the U.S. Navy globally to bring awareness and education to the prevention of domestic violence. She is the author of the bestselling memoir The Unbreakable Child, and a book critic for the New York Journal of Books. Her novels include Liar’s Bench, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field and The Sisters of Glass Ferry. Kim Michele currently finished her fourth novel, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek about the fierce and brave Kentucky Packhorse librarians. Coming Spring, 2019.
Does this sound like a book you would like? Will you add The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek to your TBR or have you already read it?
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