What an excellent work of historical fiction Kim Michele Richardson has gifted us. If you ever want to see the impact a government program can have on the lives of people who need it most,The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is one such example. FDR’s New Deal funded the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky, a group of dedicated women who delivered books to patrons hit hard by The Great Depression.
This novel follows one such librarian, 19-year-old Cussy Mary Carter, who rides her ornery, but protective, mule named Junia through Troublesome Creek to deliver books to residents who are isolated, starving, and have little access to literature. Cussy’s love of books and thirst for knowledge is spread to the people to serves, and it’s exciting to read others appreciate what we often take for granted. How easy it is for us to get a book now? We don’t even have to leave the house. Imagine traveling half a day, or more, so that others can have what we now have at our fingertips.
Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner desperate to have her married off. This has been unsuccessful because our girl Cussy is blue. Not “sad” blue. Her skin is literally blue. Her father is, too. All because of a rare genetic condition. The result is insidious discrimination and violence from those who consider her, along with anyone not white, an abomination and unworthy of companionship. The result is Cussy doing what she can to change and, like all of us, she learns the hard way to embrace what we were given.
Although the traveling work is arduous, it gives Cussy great pleasure, and a sense of purpose, especially having been shunned by society. And having the story told from her perspective gives us the insight needed to understand her generosity despite having been so relentlessly beaten and bullied by others. We meet many of her patrons who call her Bluet. Often, they are grateful for the service she provides. Others are suspicious of anything secular and not as inviting. There are some parts of the book that made me hate people, only to be followed by interactions that really speak to how wonderful the human condition is when we accept the differences of a neighbor. There were also heartbreaking scenes within the pages of Troublesome, and while it was sometimes hard to take, it made the book that much more special because this is life. And sometimes life sucks.
Richardson is excellent at intertwining the narrative of Cussy’s travels in Kentucky with her medical condition so that you find you’ve received a history and science lesson all at once…minus the boredom.
I adored Cussy. There were times she would do something so unexpected, selfless, and kind, despite having been treated so poorly for so long, that it took my breath away. She’s a heroine, and very much a woman in the finest sense. Enduring hardship while always remembering that there are others who have it worse. Along with her journeys through rugged Kentucky terrain, we also travel along in Cussy’s quest for friendship, love, and acceptance. And what a ride it was.
Richardson, you made this cold-hearted Yankee cry.
Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Dream Cast (all born in Kentucky, coz why not?)
Cussy Mary Carter: Ciara Bravo
Elijah “Pa” Carter: George Clooney
Jackson Lovett: Josh Hutcherson
Charlie Frazier: Michael Shannon
Vester Frazier: Johnny Depp
Doc: William Mapother
Queenie: Telma Hopkins