The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Book Review
“What I wanted most was to be okay as a Blue. I never understood why other people thought my color, any color, needed fixing.”
Being raised in a family with lots of medical people I have always been interested in medical anomalies including the blue Fugates of the hills of Kentucky. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson brought the saga of the blue people together with the story of the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky in a way that far surpassed my expectations!
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The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Book Review
- Author: Kim Michele Richardson
- Published: May 7, 2019
- Type: Fiction
- Genre: I would call it historical fiction as it is Inspired by the true and historical blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service.
- I purchased my paperback copy from Barnes and Noble
My Thoughts about The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek
Let me first say that although this book is fiction it is based on extremely well researched facts.
Have you heard about a group of Kentucky mountain people from the past with a rare genetic disorder that caused their skin to be blue? They had a genetic condition called methemoglobinemia. It all began when a man from France named Martin Fugate came to Troublesome Creek, Kentucky in the 1820’s and married Elizabeth Smith. Unbeknownst to them they both carried a recessive gene for the condition and 4 of their 7 children were blue. Due to the isolated conditions of the area there was some intermarriage through the generations which led to more blue people in the area.
Ok, enough of the history lesson, let’s talk about the book.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek was a “couldn’t put it down” read for me. It is set in the impoverished hills of Kentucky in the 1930’s. Cussy Carter is 19 years old and she is one of the last living blue people in the area. Her mother has passed away and she lives with her ailing coal miner father who is determined to see Cussy married before he dies so that she has someone to protect her.
Cussy, who is called Bluet by the mountain people, is a part of the historical Pack Horse Library Project of Kentucky. She has become a librarian and rides her mule through the often treacherous mountains in order to deliver books to the hill people of Eastern Kentucky.
I had never heard of the Pack Horse Library Project and this led me into a fascinating google search. The mountains of Kentucky suffered terrible hardships during and after the depression. In the book and in real life some of the mountain people were starving and many suffered and died from a condition caused by malnutrition called Pellegra.
This Pack Horse Library project was part of FDR’s New Deal. The librarians, mostly women, were hired to carry books to isolated cabins, rural school houses and homebound coalminers. Many of their routes were terribly rough and these librarians carried books along creek beds, up and down rugged mountains and along fence lines during all seasons to deliver books and magazines to the mountain people. Often they would stay and read to those who were illiterate. The hill people called them the book women.
Cussy is an immediately likeable character. She is strong, kind, and determined. Every day she faces bigotry and discrimination from the local people because of the color of her skin. However, her love of words and books sustains her as does her desire to bring knowledge and ideas to the mountain people. She sees that their minds and souls are as hungry as their bodies. I always enjoy fictional characters who love books and I adored Cussy.
This book isn’t always easy to read. It will anger you, upset you, and move you. In addition to prejudice Cussy is also the victim of a disastrous first marriage arranged by her father, she is often alone and lonely, and her library routes were dangerous both because of the topography and the people. A medical doctor convinces Cussy to allow him to study her condition in return for protection and food. His research proves to be extraordinarily difficult for the young woman as well as a turning point in her acceptance of herself.
This is a great depiction of a specific time and place, and people. It reflects the worst things, such as racism, jealousy, cruelty, and unrelenting poverty as well as the best things, nature, kindness, the value of books. and the joy in accepting people as they are.
This book isn’t perfect. I love accents and always notice dialect when it is used in a book. I found the dialect in this one to be a bit erratic. I didn’t love the ending. However, even with its flaws I feel that this book is an example of historical fiction at its best and I definitely recommend The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek!
Official Blurb from Good Reads
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.
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Oh, and here are some more of our favorite contemporary novels set in the south.