The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
When I think about characters with blue skin, I immediately assume that I must be reading some sort of fantasy novel. But this book explores the inspired-by-real-life story of the blue-skinned people of Troublesome Creek and Kentucky’s incredibly courageous pack-horse librarians.
An intensely original and beautifully researched story full of heart, resilience, and empathy. (Don’t forget to scroll down for my full review!)
About the Book:
From the publisher: The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome’s got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.
Cussy’s not only a book woman, however, she’s also the last of her kind. Her skin is a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she’s going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.
Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.
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It’s depression-era Kentucky and life is difficult. The people are hungry and prejudice runs deep. And for Cussy Carter, life with blue skin means that she’s encountered her share of hatred and ignorance. But she’s also found a passion — books. As a pack-horse librarian, she shares her deep love for reading with the rural Kentucky people. Along the way, she encounters heartache and grief, as well as acceptance and unparalleled generosity.
Historically, this book was all new information for me. I hadn’t heard of the blue-skinned family nor the pack-horse librarians. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek takes readers into this place of deep poverty and desperation. Set amidst the mountains and hills of Kentucky, Richardson has created a rich and vivid atmosphere.
While other stories may tackle the pack-horse librarians, this novel felt unique. Featuring a protagonist with methemoglobinemia (a blood disorder that makes the skin appear blue) gives it a truly fresh take. The main character, Cussy, is a strong and compassionate heroine. Her ability to see and tend to those who are hurting was both moving and inspirational.
One of the things that kept this from being a five-star read, for me, was the ending. The last few chapters felt rushed and a little overly dramatic. There were also some racial comparisons throughout the book that weren’t addressed in the notes at the back of the novel and as a reader, I’d have appreciated some added research on that.
All in all, the packhorse librarians are a fascinating bit of history and a testament to the transformative power of literature. As a reader from outside the US, I also appreciated the dialect and other little-known facts like “courting candles.”
This character-based story was a blend of trial, survival, and a whole lotta heart. A unique book and enjoyable read for fans of lesser-known history.