I am back today with a review of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. We read this for book club at the start of the summer. It was a fascinating read that surprised me both in it’s beautiful celebration of books and intensely violent scenes as well. It wasn’t my favorite read but it opened the door for some great conversations.
- My friend who chose this book warned me that the first few chapters especially are quite graphic and intense. I skipped them to avoid the violence but found other parts of the story to also be quite graphic. Be aware that this is definitely a book for adults not children or even teens.
- I listened to this book on audiobook mostly and that helped me make progress when it got slow.
- I am very intrigued by the pack horse librarian project and would read more books about these courageous women who brought reading material to people of Kentucky. I hear good things about Jojo Moyes’ The Giver of Stars.
According to Goodreads, “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.
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 Packhorse Librarians in literary novels—a story of fierce strength and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.”
The intriguing premise with the pack horse librarians kept me invested in the story. I loved the stories of Cussy Mary’s patrons and their experiences with books. These books truly change these people. From little Henry learning to read and finding a bit of joy in his otherwise very difficult life. To Loretta whose spunk and personality were so fun. We have to Moffits who have nothing and yet she lives for the books. And of course Jackson Lovett who understands the power and need for good literature and good friends. I was fascinated by the types of reading material that Cussy Mary brought and that people requested — magazines, recipes, newspaper articles, poetry, short stories. Whatever they could access. I loved the connections to Cussy Mary’s mother and her legacy of book loving. Also loved her mule because she is so protective of Cussy and seems to love the patrons on the book route. I would have liked even more literary discussion between the characters.
I haven’t read anything set in this sort of community and it was interesting to see how those people intereacted with each other. This is a tiny town with so many people with strong opinions. The way Cussy is treated in town is very intense and sad at times but also love how she makes a place for herself. I felt so sad when she tries to fit in or even does find a cure to her blueness. But people still treat her so poorly. And how her friend Queenie does the same by joining the pack horse librarian project. Cussy Mary’s father was an intriguing character because he was both an outcast and respected. His blue skin made him an outcast but his work in the mines made him respected. I felt the same sort of respect building for Cussy Mary as well with her book route. So many of the people in this town and the hills have little or nothing. It was hard to read about some of their situations and even more difficult to read how little some of them cared for others. But she brought them books and hope. I loved that.
The author tries to tackle a lot of tough issues, but I don’t think she develops them all effectively. I think she is trying to do too much. Big issues like racism and poverty are hard enough to discuss but she makes them both more complex. The racism because Cussy is blue was interesting to give that issue a different perspective especially because she can cure that blue. But rude people still treat her so poorly. Then we have Queenie being black which adds more racism potential. And we have the under-educated and under privileged people of the Kentucky hills. All throughout this book people are treating each other poorly. Perhaps that just shows how much we can all learn from such a story about treating others well. The difficult issues didn’t stop there: Children starving to death. Abuse. Poor marriages. Mob violence. Coal workers unionizing. Mine accidents. The list goes on. It just was a little too much to really connect all those parts. Plus I did not like how graphic things got at several moments in the book.
There were interesting moments and intense ones. Everything got so bad and then a little good and then so bad again. I didn’t like the mob violence in the marriage scene and would have liked that to end with a bit more hope and more people standing up to those who went too far. I would have liked more book discussions and less relationship and racism discussions. Overall, an interesting and thought provoking book but too violent and intense for my taste.
What novels do you think tackle tough issues well?
Have you read any books about the pack horse librarians that you’d recommend?