Monday, May 3, 2021

Book Review - The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Michele Richardson

Have you ever read a book that makes it hard to start another book because you have a hard time moving on from the characters that you just finished reading about? Or a book that was so good that you read it at least one more time? The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel is one of those books for me. I have started reading it for a second time. This novel, inspired by historical programs and people, includes issues of remote Appalachian living in the 1930s, literacy, poverty, spinsterhood, and the impact of having a different skin color. This is the personal story of one woman's life. A woman who is both astonishingly brave and who is as uncertain as most of the rest of us.

Historical Fiction Review on ReviewThisReviews.com

I was hooked from the opening paragraph:

"The librarian and her mule spotted it at the same time. The creature's ears shot up, and it came to a stop so sudden its front hooves skidded out, the pannier slipping off, spilling out the librarian's books. An eddy of dirt and debris lifted, stinging the woman's eyes. The mule struggled to look upward, backward, anywhere other than at the thing in front of it."    -- The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Cussy Mary Carter lived with her father in their one-room log house in Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. Her mother had passed away and her father was desperate to find a husband for his grown daughter. While his goal of her being a respectful woman and safe as someone's wife, it did not fit with her chosen career of librarian. A pack horse librarian to be exact.

From 1935 to 1943, The Pack Horse Library Project ran through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) (part of President Roosevelt's New Deal programs. The WPA focused on work relief programs). Librarians were hired to circulate books to families on their routes. The routes were up to 18 - 20 miles per day and the librarians rode these routes on horseback. The routes were often rugged and dangerous but the librarians were determined.

Cussy Mary was devoted to the families along her route. All of her families. Those who were avid readers as well as hesitant readers. She was often the only outside contact families would have for long periods of time. She was a hero to these families.

She was also a pariah. Cussy Mary was one of Kentucky's Blue People. I had never heard of this family group who (partly due to geographical region and partly genetic) had noticeably blue skin. Superstitious people in the region blamed the blue people for bad things that happened. These people were shunned, ignored, or abused. The opening of this story includes a victim of a hanging.

When testing and a possible "cure" for Cussy Mary's colored skin is offered she finds that fitting in may or may not be as easy as the doctor would lead her to believe. She has some difficult decisions to make. 

From the Author:

After the end of the novel, Kim Michele Richardson includes very interesting information in her Author's Notes.  She writes:

"I've modified one historical date in the story so I could include relevant information about medical aspects and discoveries"

In other words, The Pack Horse Project was not ongoing when the "cure" for Cussy Mary's blue skin was discovered. 

At times, when I notice that an author adjusted factual information in order to create a more interesting story I am a bit disappointed. But in this case, I was not bothered.  In fact, I was very interested by the information about the causes and cure of the congenital disease. I am still amazed that prior to this book, I had never heard of either the Pack Horse Project librarians or the Blue Fugates of Kentucky and the things they experienced in their daily lives. 

Other Recommendations:

The ReviewThis! contributors clearly love to read. Click our Book Reviews tab at the top of this page to see all our collective book reviews.

A few other historic fiction reviews I have written are: Galway Bay (a must-read that begins in Ireland during the potato famine),  Chesapeake (a James Michener tale that is set on the Chesapeake Bay and spans 400 years), and Nickel's Luck (a cast of fictional characters living in the real town of Indianola, Texas in the 1800s. Indianola is no more and I bawled learning the history of that town and it's people). 





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8 comments:

  1. Like you Dawn, I have never heard of The Pack Horse Project Librarians or this disease. I am all in when it comes to history this book sounds very interesting and something that I would like. Thanks for the review and recommendation.

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  2. I have read books in the past that take place in the Appalachians and couldn't believe the poverty and the isolated way of life that exists there. I have also never heard of the Pack Horse Project or of 'blue' people. So this book sounds fascinating. Thanks for telling me about it, Dawn Rae.

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  3. I enjoyed learning about the Pack Horse Project librarians in your review. I had never heard of the Kentucky's blue people either. So much so I had to go look it up! So I feel this would be an enjoyable and educative book for me to read. Thank you for this recommendation

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  4. I have heard of the pack horse librarians and also of methemoglobinemia, although not in tandem. A novel that makes both of them integral to the story sounds intriguing, indeed, as does the choice of preserving what makes us unique vs. blending in to avoid prejudice.Thanks for introducing me to a book I might never have heard of otherwise.

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  5. This certainly sounds interesting. I too had never heard of the pack horse librarians.

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  6. I was familiar with the Pack Horse Librarians solely because I read a book a while back about them. In that book, I discovered the librarians were paid well which would have made it a much needed job during difficult times. Using the blue skin families as the main characters in this book is a great way to focus on prejudice and ignorance about someone being "different" without tapping on political nerves of our current day times. This sounds like a must read book to me! If nothing else, it will make us all stop, think and consider our own mindsets. Excellent review Dawn. Thank you for the recommendation.

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  7. Oh Dawn Rae, you have tweaked my interests in this book. I will definitely put it higher on my MUST READ LIST. That list is again growing exponentially since everyone seems to be in lockdown and reading is a way to escape! Thank you for this addition, it sounds interesting indeed. I will have to tell my Sister In Law as she hails from Kentucky and I've never heard of these "Blue skinned people either" I wonder if she has?

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  8. You've certainly peaked my interest with this one. I'm very curious now to know more. This book would make a good gift for a few people in my circle. What an interesting review and introduction to this book - and I've never heard of blue skin, fascinating. I have to know more now.

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